Game Preview: LA Galaxy – Vancouver Whitecaps, July 4, 2015. 7:30 p.m. PT. StubHub Center; Carson, CA.
Key finishers Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Keane are back under the LA sun after nearly 5 weeks of international duty and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Jelle Van Damme (yellow card accumulation), Ashley Cole (red card) and Robbie Rogers (continuing his recovery from ankle surgery), key defensive pieces of the Galaxy’s star system, are forced to sit this Monday’s match against Vancouver Whiltecaps (7-7-3) out. Zardes returned to practice last Friday for the first time after his departure on May 23rd, and in that time played all but one minute of USA’s 6 games at Copa America Centenario with the U.S. Men’s National Team helping his nation finish in a respectable fourth place, the highest for a CONCACAF this year. Meanwhile Ireland’s record goal scorer Robbie Keane, worked his way up to top fitness but made just two appearances for his nation accumulating 23 minutes of play at Euro 2016. One would naturally guess that Keane’s ready to put the experience to rest and move forwards scoring goals for LA.
The partnership between Zardes and Giovani dos Santos (leading goal scorer for LA) is one that had led to some beautiful assists and produced some beauties in the past, hearken to a time when Dos Santos was on a scoring streak of his own.
In Zardes’ and Keane’s absence, LA have only scored 3 times in 5 MLS matches; Zardes himself had notced 4 goals, 4 assists (10 games), and Keane had netted 4 goals and an assist in the 6 he’s played. While still a far cry from the record 20 the goal-king tallied in 2015, Keane’s reputation for being goal-driven (literally and figuratively) and now parched for opportunities since the end of May, make him a sure bet to fire away on Monday’s Independence Day match against Vancouver.
The Galaxy have a 8-3-3 record against the Whitecaps. Vancouver and LA last met at BP Place on April 2nd where they dueled to a scoreless draw. In spite of producing tense wins on the pitch in U.S. Open Cup play in the past two weeks, LA are winless in 7 MLS matches (their longest such streak since 2012) and that has dropped them to just above the red line in the Western standings. The Whitecaps are a mere point ahead of LA, but currently in fourth place. They ended their shorter 3-game winless series last Saturday coming from behind against the Eastern leaders, Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium and handed the Union their first home loss this season.
Games are won over the entirety of a match and lost within moments. Fresh in their minds as they head to LA, is the Whitecaps’ most recent loss in the Amway Canadian Championship on Wednesday to a late extra time goal from Toronto FC. No stranger to late-game losses (or ties), LA should be thinking of similar lessons learned from their latest California Clásico.
“We want to win, make a statement, and put ourselves in a good position to make the playoffs,” Whitecaps’ midfielder Kekuta Manneh recently said. “In MLS, road games are difficult. For us, we want to win every single game away. We think it’s a perfect opportunity.”
What LA’s fans have been lucky to witness the past month is the flexibiiliy of the Galaxy’s defense, which is sure to make a difference in the run-up to the playoffs. A huge componont of that often overshadowed by the dissenting noise of being winless is the developing growth of goalkeeper Brian Rowe. Although he hasn’t yet won over fans in the same fashion as his predecessor San Penedo without a Cup all to himself, his growing confidence and performance during his teammates’ injuries and absences this year has become a steadfast roadblock to opponents, helping prevent LA’s winless streak from becoming a losing streak. In the absence of Van Damme, Ashley Cole and Robbie Rogers, and with Daniel Steres on the cautionary list, look for Leonardo and Oscar Sorto to make appearances. Last year’s Defender of the Year for the Galaxy, the 28-year-old Leonardo has only played once for them in a league match this season while recovering from a debilitating knee injury. Oscar Sorto has yet to play in any. Recently, both have played in the U.S. Open Cup.
To those who doubt, Arena has always promised ‘there will be goals‘ and he’s correct. There’s little doubt that having Zardes’ quick feet and positivity along with Keane’s leadership will boost confidence and allow for more finishes in the final third. But it’s not confounding how a bench so deep can become so lopsided with the loss of just two leaders. Set up that way with the signings of Van Damme, Cole and Nigel de Jong right before the season began, Arena’s focus has been to bolster the defense, predicting the absence of tried-and-true goal producers. No one should be surprised by the lack of flat-out wins in the last two months. It was set up that way from the beginning.
LA are without an MLS win since May 8th but they are far from beleaguered. As the cavalry arrives, what remains to be seen is how smoothly the rest of his plan comes together in the late summer and early autumn months.
Suspended List: Jelle Van Damme (LA), Ashley Cole (LA)
Cautionary List: Daniel Steres (LA), Octavio Rivero (Vancouver), Blas Perez (Vancouver).
QUESTIONABLE: F – Ariel Lassiter (back injury)
QUESTIONABLE: GK – Dan Kennedy (leg injury)
OUT: D – Robbie Rogers (ankle surgery 6/20, out six weeks)