The LA Galaxy didn’t impress on Wednesday night and they also didn’t totally disappoint. But it was another, in a long list, of mediocre performances in the month of August and the 2-2 draw against the worst team in Major League Soccer, the Chicago Fire, did little to calm the panic among the Galaxy’s faithful. Sure it’s not an all out panic, but the signs were on the wall before this game, and they just got outlined with Sharpie. This team is not play good soccer.
However the game started nicely. A revamped lineup that saw Bruce Arena rest Steven Gerrard, and an ailing Robbie Keane, still started Gyasi Zardes, Sebastian Lletget, and Emmanuel Boateng, along with three former Chicago Fire players in the midfield – Mike Magee, Jeff Larentowicz and Baggio Husidic. And then there was Captain Jelle Van Damme who had the biggest impact on the match, both positively and negatively. Ashley Cole, Giovani dos Santos and Nigel De Jong patrolled the pine (squad rotation at it’s finest) and Clement Diop reprised his command performance from last week as Brian Rowe continues to work his way back from a knee to the head.
It started well enough. The LA Galaxy played some possession based soccer that saw them go more sideways and backward than forward and dangerous, but they were still keeping Chicago away from goal.
In the 21st minute Sebastian Lletget, who was one of the only players doing his best to pressure the Chicago defense, was able to spin away from a defender at the top of the box. His shot was blocked but the rebound found Mike Magee who was able to poke it onto goal. But Sean Johnson made a good save to keep the ball from going into the back of the net and kept the score level.
Ten minutes later it was Van Damme’s turn to shine. He grabbed a ball just inside the attacking half and casually sprinted his large frame past most of the Chicago midfield before laying the ball off towards the touch line for Mike Magee to get onto. Magee was able to float the ball back across goal where Sebastian Lletget and Van Damme waited and battled for underneath it. Van Damme got his head to it and it deflected off of a Chicago defender before falling to Gyasi Zardes who was able to drive a low hard shot past everyone and into the back of the net. While Zardes gets credit for the goal it was created by the LA Galaxy’s central defender. And it marked the second time in two games that Van Damme was one of the more dangerous LA Galaxy attackers.
“I saw the ball get played across and sure enough Jelle headed it backwards and sure enough I was there just to put it away. I tried to hit it with pace on the ground because the pitch was so wet.” Gyasi Zardes, LA Galaxy Striker
The LA Galaxy were 6-1-2 when scoring the first goal in games this season. So it should’ve put them in a perfect spot to play smart and wear down a less talented Chicago Fire team. But, as has been the case many times this year, the defense lapsed for a split second and quickly allow the Fire to tie the game.
In the 34th minute, after what looked to be a foul on Jelle Van Damme wasn’t called, both the Fire offense and the Galaxy defense stopped for a second. Except that Chicago kept coming. A dangerous cross was played behind the backline and in front of the Clement Diop. Diop was a little late getting to it and the convergence of offensive and defensive bodies created confusion. The ball was bobbled wide by Diop and then it skimmed just off AJ DeLaGarza’s forehead before falling to the deadly foot of Arturo Alvarez who buried the shot into the open net.
But Chicago wouldn’t be done. Buoyed by the fluke goal and bad defending they pushed for the remainder of the half and forced Jelle Van Damme into a foul inside the box. Was it a penalty kick? Sure. Was there contact? Yes. Was it exaggerated? You bet. But regardless of the softness of the foul or the fact that Chicago’s Michael de Leeuw was 3 yards inside the penalty box when the kick was taken – right in front of the referee – the Fire converted and it was 2-1 in the 39th minute.
The LA Galaxy held the lead for less than five minutes and they trailed in at halftime for just the second time all season (1-1-0 when trailing at halftime).
Bruce Arena allowed the same starting lineup back onto the field to start the second half, but went to his bench in the 60th minute to bring on Giovani dos Santos and, just six minutes later, brought on Alan Gordon as well.
This was shortly after the Chicago Fire missed their chance to put the game away. On a clear breakaway that saw Clement Diop come some 30 yards off his line only to miss the race to the ball, the Fire’s David Accam and Luis Solignac would pair up in one of the worst plays of soccer this year. With an open net Accam didn’t pull the trigger. But instead waited for Solignac to get open on the far post, passed it to him and then watched helplessly as Galaxy players scrambled back and somehow forced Solignac to miss wide. It should’ve been a goal. And the Fire should’ve one that game.
But it didn’t happen and the Galaxy were able to get their subs on the field minutes later. Arena would see those subs pay off as Gordon chased a ball deep toward the touchline on a great pass from Sebastian Lletget. Gordon was able to cut the ball back to the top of the box where Giovani dos Santos had timed his run and used the outside of his left foot to tuck the ball past Sean Johnson and see the game tied in the 69th minute.
There were close calls for both teams as the game closed out – Giovani dos Santos even thought he had the game winner but was ruled correctly offside – but nothing would stick.
And while the road point doesn’t look horrible from the zero points that were staring the Galaxy in the face, it still isn’t three points against a team that should’ve been beaten.
QUOTE(S) OF THE GAME
Bruce Arena On if he’s happy with the road point:
“No, this is a game we should get three points, in my opinion, and didn’t.”
Bruce Arena On the Fire:
“It’s not my job to tell you about the Chicago Fire, I’ll let the Chicago Fire tell you about them. I haven’t spent a lot of time analyzing the Chicago Fire. No disrespect, I’m not as familiar with them so I’d leave it to them to talk about their team.”
Bruce Arena On why the team should have gotten three points:
“Because we’re capable of winning this game. Our team is capable of winning this game.”
THE LINEUP ARGUMENT
Complain about the lineup all you want. That the LA Galaxy can’t get their Designated Players to play in midweek games when you’re playing 3 games in one week. But in both of the most recent cases the teams that were put on the field failed to execute offensively or defensively despite being in winning positions. And LA has been consistent in it’s struggles regardless of the lineup.
This was a good test. Robbie Keane is getting older (just announced his retirement from International football) and it’s unlikely that Gerrard is going to be back after the season. So to see an offense that focuses itself more around Gyasi Zardes, or Giovani dos Santos is a good thing. It actually goes back to the last time the LA Galaxy were dangerous on offense – when Robbie Keane was hurt and Gyasi and Gio were forming a partnership.
But the players on the field were capable of beating a last place Chicago team. They didn’t. And the mistakes that are being made are from veterans. The Galaxy just aren’t clicking.
“We have a game Saturday, we’re going back home. It’s very hard to play three games in a week. If we learn how to schedule properly, you go Saturday, Wednesday, Sunday. When you go Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, the third game makes it real difficult. We could have put a full squad out tonight, then we have a tough time on Saturday so we tried to balance it a little bit. A couple guys needed a break anyway but it’s still going to be difficult for us to get our team ready for Saturday. That’s part of it.” Bruce Arena, LA Galaxy Head Coach
DOS SANTOS IS HOME
If you wanted to know where Dos Santos plays best, he showed you tonight. He’s a withdrawn striker. Think a fairly accurate replica of Robbie Keane. Their styles are different. But then like to play the same role. Which is why they don’t work great together on the pitch. If you want Giovani dos Santos to score more goals an be more creative, then sit Robbie Keane more. Yes that hurts your heart. But it’ll get better.
DAMME HE’S GOOD
Yes Jelle Van Damme is the team’s MVP this year. Get your votes ready. He also could be MLS’ Defender of the Year. He’s also responsible for that penalty kick. But that’s going to happen as a defender. Sometimes your best intentions turn into an over exaggerated foul. Shake it off.
But as the captain for tonight, Van Damme was the energy, and the bite the this LA Galaxy team needed. So take the fine he’s going to get for touching the referee and move on. You need him on the field.
HOW DO YOU STOP THE BLEEDING?
For Bruce Arena it’s going to be about finding someone to build around. With Dos Santos and Zardes both scoring in this game it might be time to give these guys a shot at starting a game. Let Robbie Keane sit on the bench and come in for the second half to try and create some magic if you need it, much like his role with the Irish National Team as of late.
Gerrard is still an important piece to the offense, but it’s also important to get your more creative players like Lletget and Boateng on the ball as much as possible.
De Jong is important to the defenses success and the rest of the defense is solid with Ashley Cole, Jelle Van Damme, Daniel Steres and AJ DeLaGarza.
But let some of these guys create some movement. This team has looked tired and stagnant. They pass sideways and backwards but never seem to unlock defenses vertically. Alan Gordon did just that and it lead to a goal. Gyasi Zardes even mentioned it post game:
“We started playing forward. We stopped playing side to side and started going at our opponents. I felt like if we had done that in the first half, we would have been more effective.”
There are going to be some tough choices for Bruce Arena, but if he finds a lineup that works, and it doesn’t include Robbie Keane or Steven Gerrard, or really anyone, then he’s going to have to stick with it. The LA Galaxy have nine games remaining on their schedule. Five of those games are at home. And if they’re going to have success in the playoffs, it’s almost certainly not going to come on the road. Get home games in the playoffs by winning now. Right. Now.
LA – Gyasi Zardes 31’
CHI – Arturo Alvarez 34’
CHI – David Accam (penalty) 39’
LA – Giovani dos Santos (Assisted by Alan Gordon, Sebastian Lletget) 69’