CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy’s six-game unbeaten streak came to an unceremonious end on Saturday night. That’s where the visiting Colorado Rapids patiently outwaited the home side, dropping them to 10 men and winning by a score of 2-0 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
The Rapids (4-4-4; 16 points) should be given the lions share of the credit for the win. Their compact style and ability to absorb pressure kept the Galaxy’s usually dangerous counter-attack at bay. And buoyed by a goal from Cole Bassett in the 40th-minute — a goal that saw Galaxy defender Nick DePuy get sucked toward the near post by a lobbed cross — and the eventual mismatch in manpower, the Rapids were the better team throughout the night.
For his part, Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto started a repeat lineup from the Galaxy’s scoreless draw with San Jose last weekend, hoping to buck a trend of offensive malaise that has settled into the club over the last 180 minutes.
“I think they played well,” said Schelotto of the Rapids. “They won the game and they deserved to win because they played very well. We never were able to manage the ball as we wanted, as I wanted.”
Teenagers Efrain Alvarez (18) and Julian Araujo (19) started next to each other again and would provide the main storylines of the game.
For it was Alvarez’s repeated indecision in front of the goal and Araujo’s eventual ejection that played roles in the Galaxy’s loss.
With only four shots on goal for the Galaxy (4-4-3; 15 Points), it would be easy to say they weren’t creating the chances. But they were. Even as their game has been reduced to a rather one-dimensional and predictable approach with long balls to forward Ethan Zubak and midfielder Cristian Pavon.
Zubak had a point-blank shot in the 52nd minute, and both defender Nick DePuy and midfielder Sebastian Lletget got headers on the ball toward the goal. Second-half-sub Javier Hernandez even got a shot in the 59th minute that was far from good enough, but still a positive.
But for all the shots — they had 11 in total — they passed up several others and mishandled so many more.
The most glaring from was from Alvarez in the 66th minute with the Galaxy still down by a goal but building pressure on Colorado.
Araujo intercepted a pass and broke into the attacking third with support. He quickly penetrated the box and laid the ball off to Alvarez who was open for the shot. But instead of firing on target, Alvarez held the ball and then tried to thread the ball back to Araujo who was then in an offside position.
Araujo could be seen and heard in the cavernous stadium — even over the soundtrack of fans provided by the home club. His arms flung to his side and he yelled to the sky.
“Every time we had the ball we tried to play long ball to [Ethan] Zubak or to [Cristian] Pavon,” Schelotto explained. “We never tried to build up and that was the problem. In the second half, when you are losing you get smaller spaces and we never were able to open the Colorado defense to get good options. We just tried to push but we didn’t play well.”
Six minutes later, Araujo would pick up his fourth yellow card of the season for a perfectly reasonable tactical foul. But what followed, a mere 180 seconds later, will certainly be talked about for the rest of the week.
Araujo received his second yellow card from Unkel after a soft foul was called on him in the 75th minute — Unkel apparently displeased with the grabbing from both player as they scrambled for the ball. Araujo reacted to the foul in a suboptimal way, loudly voicing his disagreement. Unfortunately, without the noise of the crowd filling the emptiness, Unkel heard every word of Araujo’s disgust. And he quickly reached to his shirt pocket and produced a second yellow card for the youngster.
Araujo, who was the Galaxy’s best player on the night — something that he’s been doing with regularity after the restart — was off the field, and the Galaxy were down to 10 men for the rest of the game.
“That red card is ridiculous,” Galaxy captain Dan Steres vented after the game. “This referee should not be allowing that to happen when a kid is fighting like that. Julian (Araujo) will learn his lesson and he’ll understand he can’t be saying things. But he’s got to know a little bit better the game he’s in and what he’s doing.”
Schelotto also went to bat for his young defender.
“The ref said something, but I think he is wrong,” he said. “Because I know Araujo and I know the kind of person that he is, and maybe he said something to the air and not to him. But okay. We need to check in every game, if every ref will do the same even with big names, even with big names.”
Three minutes later — with the rug pulled out from underneath a struggling offense — the Galaxy would concede again when Rapids winger Jonathan Lewis would score on a play filled with questionable decisions. Earlier in the buildup, Steres would be grabbed and thrown away from the ball in a physical battle for position. It was a foul anywhere else on the field, but not this time.
A pass would then be made through the middle to the far post. That’s where Braian Galván would pass back to the middle for Lewis to finish. However, the offside flag went up as soon as the ball found the back of the net. With replays showing a very tight call, Unkel went to the monitor to overturn the call. But the trip to the monitor gave Galaxy players a chance to question whether the play was really “clear and obvious” as the rules state.
“Now that I’ve seen the replay, I don’t think there’s any way the ref can tell me that it’s clear and obvious after he called an offside on the field, that he was not offside,” added Steres. “I think these refs had an absolute shocker and that put the game over.”
The refereeing aside, the Galaxy didn’t play well. And no one was making excuses for the result. But with back to back games that lacked offensive cohesiveness, and neither Jonathan dos Santos nor Chicharito doing anything to change that, the Galaxy seem to be back in trouble.
But Steres isn’t convinced that’s the case.
“We still had chances there (San Jose) and we didn’t finish them off. Even tonight we had some when it was 1-0, that we didn’t finish off. And we’ll take that after the red card and the game just got away from us.”
The Galaxy will be back in action on Wednesday night when they travel to Real Salt Lake (6:30 PM; Spectrum SportsNet). But they’ll be doing it without Araujo.