Montreal, Canada – For 94 minutes the LA Galaxy struggled to find form outside of two goals from Giovani dos Santos and Mike Magee. They struggled to maintain meaningful possession and they looked predictable in attack. And for 94 minutes it looked as if the they would escape a long road trip – a five and half hour flight – to earn a point on the road and hustle back to Los Angeles looking ahead to a Thursday night matchup with Sporting KC.
But with just seconds left, the LA Galaxy watched all of that work be flushed away by a simple goal keeping mistake. A foul by Daniel Steres deep into stoppage time gave Didier Drogba a 35 yard shot that should’ve seen the game end. When Drogba struck the ball it was immediately apparent that it was right at LA Galaxy goal keeper Brian Rowe. Rowe only needed to shuffle his feet horizontal maybe a foot to get behind the ball and the game would end.
But instead the ball, that was at chest height, slipped through his hands and into the back of the net. A mistake that is probably more reminiscent of a junior varsity high school game then in America’s top flight of competition.
And that’s a shame, because throughout the night, the lackluster performance that was put on by the defense was backed up with a very solid game from the Galaxy’s number one keeper. He made a couple of difficult saves earlier in the game to keep the team within striking distance of Montreal. And Montreal tested the LA Galaxy with counter after counter – seemingly inviting pressure forward – only to quickly turn the tables on a slow-to-recover LA defense.
“It’s very disappointing. Not only of the mistake at the end of the game, but I thought on the night we played pretty poorly. It’s a game where we could have left here with some points, a point or even three points and we played poorly. We deserved what happened in the end, we weren’t good enough on the night.” Bruce Arena, LA Galaxy Head Coach
GOALS COME AND GO
It looked promising from the opening minutes. Montreal, although the home team, was shaken to begin with, their entire back line comprised of backups and rookies. In just the 8′ minute of play, a wild scramble in the box found Giovani dos Santos gifted with the ball at his foot. A simple tap-in gave the visiting team a 1-0 lead and confidence to push forward.
But that’s what Montreal wanted. To pull the Galaxy into the attack so that Drogba, Ignacio Piatti, and Dominic Oduro could run away from the slow LA Galaxy defense.
“I think they wanted us to play in their half and we kind of did it by going all forward. I think we left some holes in the back. They’ve got speed and players like [Didier] Drogba, [Ignacio] Piatti and [Dominic] Oduro. It’s tough to handle them when they’re coming at you on the counter.” Daniel Steres, LA Galaxy Defender
In the 26th minute, they did exactly that. A quick counter strike that left the defense behind and Montreal with a tying goal, finished easily by Piatti.
Montreal would score another goal in the second half as Ashley Cole was found to be unable to close down Lucas Antihero from about 16 yards out, and the Galaxy would struggle to mount any serious momentum.
With Montreal up 2-1 in the 56th minute, Mike Magee pulled off a magic trick when Steven Gerrard put a pass behind Magee and Dos Santos. Mike was able to react and throw a foot up that expertly killed the ball. From there, inside the box, he was able to turn and fire. A quick response to Montreal having the better of the chances.
So again, for 94 minutes the LA Galaxy managed to at least hang on. They even killed off the game and dodged some chances until Steven Gerrard tried to force a pass through the middle of the attacking third that was hopeful at best and reckless at worse. Montreal went the other way quickly and the ball found it’s way to Ignacio Piatti on the left hand side but with some space. Steres was the only defender back on that side and Jelle Van Damme was all the way across the field covering the counter run on that side. With no one back to help him Steres did what I’d expect. He founded Piatti, picking up yellow card, and keeping the Impact from getting any closer.
There are already people questioning the foul and the tactical nature of the challenge. Was it the right thing to do when the game was almost over? Would it have been better to let Piatti get behind him? After all the referee was going to blow the whistle any second.
But in soccer the referees like to let scoring chances play out. So no savior with a whistle was going to stop that attack from happening. In my opinion, while it wasn’t the smartest move, seeing as Steres had been beaten on a lot of the plays that night, it’s probably better he fouled than if he allowed the play to continue.
And from 35 yards out, it would seem unlikely that a shot would beat Brian Rowe. So the real danger was in defending the set piece. But it didn’t need to come to that.
The LA Galaxy did not play well enough to win the game. Although, with the talent they had on the field versus what the Montreal Impact had on the field, they should’ve been able to walk away with three points. Simply, the LA Galaxy never mounted any serious competition in this game.
The standout player in my mind was Nigel De Jong. He played the defensive midfield roll well and distributed to the best of his ability. He was always attempting to get back on defense and did well to cover for Robbie Rogers and Ashley Cole who continuously found themselves overly committed to the attack.
Sebastian Lletget also should be seen as a standout in this game. He created chances and helped Rogers be effective in the attacking third. The Galaxy lost something when he was subbed out for Baggio Husidic in the 78th minute.
Robbie Rogers, although he played excellent on the offensive side of the ball was atrocious on defense. He’s always been great going forward, and his ability to cross and combine with Lletget is why the Galaxy have so much success offensively. But he failed to understand that the speedy Montreal offense wanted him to push forward so they could run away from him. What you needed in this game was a defender who would be smart and economical with his runs forward and Rogers didn’t do that.
That exposed Steres’ complete lack of speed or good anticipation. It also put a tremendous strain on Jelle Van Damme who was trying to escape this game without a yellow card – the final game in a 5 game string of good behavior that would see one of his four yellow cards expunged. He did accomplish that goal, but it wasn’t his best effort.
“We got ourselves to blame for the result over the 90 minutes. We turned over possession too many times, and we made this a very difficult game. We should have won this game comfortably, so we’re disappointed in the performance as a whole.” Steven Gerrard, LA Galaxy Midfielder
The Galaxy defense was missing a smart player able to sense the counter attack danger from Montreal, and neither of the big guys in the center could anticipate well enough to stop the Impact from having their way with the Galaxy defense. If this game didn’t scream AJ DeLaGarza’s name, then I don’t know what will.
With this LA Galaxy preaching about defensive poise, clean sheets, and smarts in defending this season, it’s absolutely astonishing that they continue to put one of their best defenders, probably the best anticipation player in Major League Soccer, AJ DeLaGarza on the bench. Whether in the place of Steres or Rogers, his smarts and recovery speed would’ve been much appreciated in this game.
The LA Galaxy have now given up eight goals in the last 30 minutes and four of those goals came in the last 15 minutes. LA has allowed a total of 15 goals on the season. So more than 50% of the goals the Galaxy have allowed have come in the final 33% of the game.
And when you stop to think about what this season has looked like for the Galaxy their only losses on the season, Montreal and Colorado, came from last second, stoppage time goals. Realistically speaking, the LA Galaxy are no more than 30 seconds from being undefeated in 2016.
Brian Rowe is 100% to be blamed for the LA Galaxy losing the draw. They had the road point guaranteed if he does anything but what he did. Punch the ball away, push it sideways, catch it; anything but let the ball carelessly go through his fingertips. But Rowe only cost the LA Galaxy a point. It’s on every other player and coach to realize that they should’ve won this game. The rest of the team lost three points on the night. And that’s much, much worse.