Carson, CA (StubHub Center) – The LA Galaxy wrapped up their slate of pre season matches with a 4-0 loss to Seattle in a closed-door scrimmage in a downpour at StubHub Center. And while that’s the last thing that most Galaxy fans will want read exactly 7 days from their matchup with Santos Laguna, it may bring this team, that has struggled to find offense in this preseason, something to build on.
As I usually do with preseason games here are my notes and from this wet and soggy 90 minutes.
Besides Brian Rowe being slotted into the starting XI (Dan Kennedy will be the starter) you had, what I imagine to be your starting lineup for the CONCACAF Champions League against Santos next Wednesday.
Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes are the starters up top. There’s no argument there. Although, in my mind, Zardes has been less than stellar so far this preseason. He was the constant focus of angry glares and increasingly frustrated gesticulations from Robbie Keane and Steve Gerrard. You could probably add in Nigel De Jong to that group but he’s still trying to adapt to this team so it felt like he held back some of his anger. Zardes has got to get on the same page as these guys. While some fans have claimed that Zardes is regressing from his breakout season in 2014, I’d argue he’s just stopped progressing. And 2014 may end up being an outlier. He was the target man for Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane that year. He wasn’t asked to create, he was just asked to finish. And the way he did that was to find small spaces and be where Keano and Donovan expected him to be. I haven’t seen that yet this preseason and it should be worrying.
Boateng and Steres are probably the other two issues to look at in this starting lineup. With Boateng I’m expecting him to be the CCL starter. Not because I think his play has earned him a spot over Sebastian Lletget, but because with Lletget still not close to match shape, it would be tough for me to slot him in. That being said, I could see Arena going with Lletget to start and realizing that you probably couldn’t get more than 50 or 60 minutes out of him and using Boateng to close out the game. But in my mind I reverse that and bring on Lletget in the 70th minute as a spark from the bench. Lletget got 20 minutes on a rain soaked field.
Steres is the player I expect will not start vs Santos. AJ DeLaGarza and Leonardo are both working back from injury but one of those guys is definitely going to start on Wednesday night. Fitness for a center back isn’t as important as fitness for a midfielder. That being said, Arena may have to factor in a defensive replacement. It’ll be tough to stretch either of those guys for 90 minutes.
I started mentioning it in the starting lineup, but the real issue with this team is that the offense hasn’t been finishing chances when they get them and they haven’t been creating that many chances to begin with. Robbie Keane has been okay, but clearly something isn’t clicking with Zardes. Although there were several great combinations with Keane, Gerrard, De Jong and Boateng, they always seemed to fizzle out. So the new guys seem to be getting together on the same page to some extent. I liked Ashley Cole going forward and overlapping with Boateng. And I love when Robbie Rogers can get forward past Giovanni dos Santos. But the left side has the advantage here – Boateng, Keane, Gerrard, De Jong and Cole are the best passing side of the field.
The real disappointment in the preseason have been Giovani dos Santos and Zardes. I’ve already mentioned Zardes above, but Dos Santos is having just as questionable a start. He’s been muscled off the ball, made bad passes and almost seem uninterested in getting back to play defense. The Sounders took advantage of this last night and ran past Rogers on the right side a couple of times. Dos Santos is not providing much in the way of defensive pressure and going forward he’s been absent. Absent in the ways we sometimes talked about Landon Donovan.
I’ve seen Dos Santos pass Gerrard into trouble on multiple occasions and overall he seem careless with his attack. Although he did have a nice cross early in the game, the Galaxy should really be finding him more often. But moving him up top is not the answer because keeping Robbie Keane and Giovani dos Santos away from each other is vital. They like to take up the same space and that doesn’t work on the frontline. The fact that Zardes and Dos Santos are playing on the same side probably adds another issue. But someone on the right side has to pick it up. Rogers has been doing pretty good. It’s the other two guys I’m worried about because right now the Galaxy feel like they can only attack from the left.
I talked a little about the defense above but you’d figure with a 4-0 loss to Seattle that defense should be the biggest section. It’s not. And it’s not because I am pro Ashley Cole, or because I think that the defense played excellent last night. It’s because what I saw last night was more a product of a couple mistakes and a sloppy field then it was indicative of how they’ve played leading up to this preseason. Does that mean that the defense shouldn’t look at last nights game on video and just toss it out? No. Because there are several lessons that can be learned.
As several of you mentioned last night, the defense was playing a high line. We’ve talked about over the course of last year. Without speedy recovery options on both sides of the ball, the Central defense can be beaten. It’s why I’ve never been a fan of the “twin towers” defense Arena loves to implore. And in this case it was only a single tower, but Steres isn’t a quick option either. So the middle of the field was beaten with speed.
This is why AJ DeLaGarza is probably going to start for LA on Wednesday night. The Galaxy need someone to be able to cover for an overly aggressive Jelle Van Damme. And while I love Van Damme and his aggressive nature, he’s letting himself get pulled way to far up the field. It’s probably the “left back” in him that wants to get forward, but having him stay at home is going to help.
Ashley Cole had his worst game of the preseason. That’s a simple statement but also something that proves how good he’s looked int he previous games. He was caught a step slow or a step in the wrong direction a couple of times. Being matched up against Jordan Morris, a speedy youngster showed his limitation. He’s not fast. But Cole is quick. He can usually get himself in the right position and make the tackle. The field made him much slower and in this particular case, dropping off or Morris a step or two would’ve helped. But bad turnovers int he midfield led to a lot of the defensive issues. Cole did fine but we did get to see his temper raised and I don’t think that’s a good look for him. With Keane, Van Damme, and De Jong all particularly boisterous when it comes to complaining I don’t think the Galaxy will want to have Cole being another person they have to worry about losing their head.
Normally I’m a huge fan of the field at StubHub Center. I was not on the night. The water wasn’t draining through and although the rain was very, very heavy at times, it was allowed to puddle way too fast. It’s relatively new field and the soil that came with the grass may’ve included more clay then everyone thought, but the field definitely had an impact on the game. That being said, Seattle didn’t seem too worried about it. But hey, according to their match day twitter account they do rain well. What a horrible thing to be good at. I’ll stick with sunshine and winning MLS Cups.
Yes. I’m going to talk about the refereeing in a preseason game. They were bad. Although we’ll give them kudos for reversing what would’ve been the world’s worst Penalty Kick call, that seemed to scare the center official and he then swallowed his whistle for the rest of the match. My observation is that this LA Galaxy team needs to be kept in check by the whistle. If MLS referees are going to allow the LA Galaxy to be overly physical, De Jong, Cole and Van Damme are going to get in trouble. And De Jong played a pretty clean game. But he has a reputation. And that reputation is that he’s dirty. That will be an issue this year regardless of how clean he plays.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SANTOS LAGUNA AND THE CCL?
Nothing. It means that the LA Galaxy are still trying to gel and trying to fit in new pieces. It means that there is still work to be done. It means that this team may not be ready to make a run in the CCL. Who’s fault is that? I’m not sure I can fault anyone for a team that’s not 100% ready after training for about a month. The timing of this tournament is so tough on MLS teams. And to advance is going to take a monumental effort over two legs.
But I am confident that this team is focused on this first game. The new guys know the importance of this tournament to the LA Galaxy and everyone is very focused. Bruce Arena was emailing players over the break focusing them on fitness. Robbie Keane got the players into camp a week earlier than the CBA allowed. This team is taking it seriously. The coaches, the players, the support staff are all focused on this first game against Santos Laguna. So the focus is there. Now it’s about actually playing the game and seeing if the Galaxy have advanced far enough in the preseason to make a run at this thing.
AJ DeLaGarza (Right Foot) – Played the last 20 minutes of the game last night. It was game fitness if nothing else. He looked fine. I expect him to start versus Santos on Wednesday.
Sebastian Lletget (Groin) – Played the last 20 minutes as well. Looked good. Still don’t see him starting. For a midfielder that would be asking him to do a lot with not a ton of fitness.
Leonardo (leg injury) – Didn’t play. I don’t expect him to be ready for the CCL match.
Romney (Hamstring) – Played the last 20 minutes of the game. Didn’t seem to have any issues. He’s going to be a backup this year. But he’ll be first in line if someone gets injured on the backline.
Gordon (Bruised Ribs) – Played the last 20 minutes of the game. Got speared with a knee right in his ribs during his first touch of the ball after coming on. He stayed on the field but was seen grimacing for minutes after the hit. Unknown how much damage that did or if this will be a setback for him. I’m guessing he’ll be available to come off the bench in the Santos game.
Jeff Larentowicz (Hernia Surgery) – No update. I’m not sure he’s even started full training with the club. Bruce is going to take his time bringing Larentowicz back.