Two weekends ago, the LA Galaxy tied the Seattle Sounders 2-2, forcing the Galaxy to need a win in their final game of the regular season to with the Supporters’ Shield and take the top seed in the MLS Cup playoffs. This past Saturday, the Galaxy fell 2-0 in Seattle as the Sounders claimed the Shield outright.
The Galaxy now have two losses and one draw in their last three games (the other loss at Dallas, 2-1), all three against playoff teams. There is concern around Stub Hub Center with the resent results and performances, but all of these issues are fixable. Many of them are simple and quick fixes. In truth, while there is concern to be had and work to be done this week prior to opening the playoffs against Real Salt Lake, there’s no reason to panic.
LA Dispatch: Lots Of Concern, But No Panic for Galaxy
While on paper, the last three matches seem to raise an alarm, in a vacuum, each result makes sense and and has its own causes for why things played out. Many of these causes are circumstantial and not sources of worry going forward.
Loss at FC Dallas 2-1:
The Galaxy were without four key starters in this match. Keane was with the Ireland National Team. Marcelo Sarvas was suspended on yellow card accumulation. Rogers and Gargan did not start because of injuries. Donovan and Gonzalez had just played two nights ago against Ecuador with the US National Team (41′ and 28′ played respectively).
Dallas was without Blas Perez and Raul Fernandez. Fernandez was not that big of an absence as he has shared time in goal with Chris Seitz throughout the year, and both have looked good. Dallas started David Texeira up top with Rookie of the Year Candidate Tesho Akindele. As was evident this past weekend, Perez and Texeira do not combine well together. Even with the veteran leadership of Perez missing, against LA, Texeira and Akindele were the better option.
As I’ve argued before, Dallas might be the worst match up for the Galaxy with their speed on the flanks and youthful exuberance. Combine that with playing on the road with over half of your preferred starters absent or on short rest, and this game had a loss written all over it. The Galaxy did well to scrap a lead on a wonderful Ishizaki chip. They tried like thunder to hold the lead, but playing for the draw resulted in the loss.
Draw with Seattle 2-2:
Seattle came in with an excellent game plan to play on the counter and be organized defensively, something that usually lead to their epic downfalls to LA in the past. The Galaxy worked up a two goal lead by scoring off of second chance balls with space and poor marking by Seattle. But around the 50th minute, Bruce Arena decided to switch gears from possess and attack to fall back and counter when opportune.
Both of Seattle’s goals came after this change and were the result of passive defending. While the Galaxy are an excellent counter attacking team, leading at home in the 60th minute this season has been when they decide to go for the jugular. I don’t think Seattle would have gotten back in the game if LA had kept being proactive. Once it was 2-2, the Galaxy couldn’t make the drastic shift back to the way they were playing earlier.
This is the least excusable of the recent results. The Galaxy let this one slip away. It felt more like a blown lead than a Seattle comeback. That said, Keane was invisible all night, possibly due to fatigue from national team play and travel. Donovan had an ok game, but was not at the same level he’s been at. A draw against Seattle with your two best attackers having an off day doesn’t sound so bad. But to make matters worse, Gonzalez was given an 88′ red card after a second caution that ruled him out for the second leg of the Supporters’ Shield Showdown.
Loss at Seattle 2-0:
Gonzalez’s absence forced Leonardo back into the lineup. While he has been the runaway leader for most disliked Galaxy player for Galaxy fans this year, the loss at Dallas might have been his best match with the Galaxy to date. I thought he played well in Seattle. The Galaxy were going to need a win to secure the Shield. While proactive and the better side at times, two brain fart defensive breakdowns lead to a 2-0 loss.
Arena chose to leave Keane out of the 18 to rest him. In doing so it seemed the Galaxy were conceding the Shield by default. However, they out shot Seattle 13-4, won possession 59-41%, and created many of the chances. They did an excellent job disrupting Seattle’s tempo. They didn’t allow a shot attempt in the 75th minute. The Sounders scored off of a quickly taken free kick as the Galaxy left substitute Marco Pappa wide open.
I thought the pay unfolded very strangely. Sarvas was called for the foul on Obafemi Martins. Sarvas was on the ground at the time. After the whistle, both were kicking each other (nothing violent, just the usual Seattle-LA scrap), and Sarvas was left holding his shin and appeared to be in pain. Head Referee Mark Geiger allowed the free kick to be taken, with Sarvas still on the ground. It didn’t look serious and he got up before the goal was scored, but I’ve seen plays like this before and 90% of the time, the ref blows the attempted quick free kick dead to check on the player. The Galaxy were as surprised as I was, and Pappa finished off the play.
Geiger’s decision is no excuse for the poor job defending, but I think he should have delayed at least to check on the player. Had the free kick not been taken quickly, I don’t think LA would have been as vulnerable defensively. That said, the Galaxy need to do a better job in these situations going forward.
The second goal came in second half stoppage time when Penedo had one of the dumbest turnovers I’ve ever seen a goalkeeper make. Pappa scored his second, sealing the match and the trophy. Penedo has been great this year for the Galaxy but has made a few simple and costly mistakes that have lead to goals. This was his first in awhile. One could argue this was a garbage time goal as the Galaxy had less than a minutes of stoppage time to score two goals. Penedo can’t make any of these types of mistakes in the playoffs. All this aside, the Galaxy played about as well as they could have without their best attacker and best defender.
I will admit that the Sounders taking four of a possible six points from the Supporters’ Shield Showdown could very well have been them turning the corner. They showed up in a big moment against the team that has gotten them several times in the past. They seem more organized defensively. The Galaxy are going to have to raise the bar because this isn’t the same Sounders team. While stronger than ever before, they are not invincible. The back line is still a weakness, but it isn’t as glaring. There’s a rising confidence. It isn’t going to be as easy as the 3-0 blow outs of the past. The Galaxy need to do a better job in attack. The full backs have to smart about going forward. Gonzalez and DeLaGarza need to at least slow down Martins and Dempsey if not stop them.
The Galaxy are going to have to earn it. As a fan, I almost prefer it that way.
Yes, the Supporters’ Shield was lost. So too is Keane’s MVP candidacy, probably. But at the end of the day, the world didn’t end. I agree with Deandre Yedlin that the Shield is more valuable by definition than MLS Cup, but MLS Cup is still hands down the prize to be had. These teams are very much likely to meet in the WCF. One silver lining to not winning the Shield is potentially not having to play Dallas.
Should the Galaxy win and go on to win MLS Cup, they will be remembered as the team that won the club’s fifth MLS Cup, further cementing them as the dynasty of the 2010’s and super club of MLS. This Seattle Sounders team will already go down in history for winning the double (US Open Cup and the Shield). If they go on to win MLS Cup, they will be the first team in MLS history to win the treble. Should they falter, they will be regarded by some as a Sounders team that once again couldn’t win MLS Cup. If they lose to LA in the conference finals, they will still have that thorn in their side.
The events that will ultimately decide how we remember the 2014 versions of these two teams have not yet come to pass. In that, there is still much to be decided. Seattle won the battle, but the real war hasn’t even begun.
Missing key players was a major factor in the two recent losses. The Galaxy are going to be at full strength going forward. Arena saw what happened when he decided to have the team sit back and protect leads. Tactics change in the playoffs. I expect he will have the team go for the kill when in that situation.
Rest up. Talk about what happened. No more mental lapses or simple mistakes. The Galaxy could have made it a lot harder on Seattle on each of the four plays that lead to goals. The big guns need to show up. The Bruce Arena coached LA Galaxy have had a knack for flipping the switch and taking over games when the stakes are highest. There’s no more distraction of LD ceremonies, the Shield, Keane’s potential MVP, etc. There’s only MLS Cup.
Turn the focus to RSL. They haven’t been good at the back recently. They’re injured. If you don’t let Plata and Saborio score, RSL usually isn’t scoring at all. All of the recent problems are fixable. Flip the switch and take care of business.
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