Carson, CA – It’s been a tough month for the LA Galaxy. They haven’t won a game since a 2-1 victory away from StubHub center to the Portland Timbers on July 23, 2016. And during the month of August they went 0-1-4. That’s just four points gained in the league for an entire month. And while not losing tonight against the Vancouver Whitecaps protected them from a worst case scenario of getting zero points in front of their home fans, it wasn’t what needed to happen.
The LA Galaxy’s starting lineup was missing usual starters AJ DeLaGarza, Daniel Steres, and Gyasi Zardes (squad rotation but all on the bench) but saw the return of Steven Gerrard back to his midfield position and Robbie Rogers to the right back position. Rogers hadn’t played since a since a 0-0 draw with Sporting KC on June 2nd. Robbie Keane was also missing from the team as he was off in Ireland to take part in their friendly and his last international game of his career.
Also making his return from injury was Brian Rowe. Rowe joked about wearing his newly acquired headgear saying that he’d probably keep wearing it as long as Nigel De Jong is still on the field. Referencing the 9 staples he had in his head after a collision with De Jong against Colorado. Staples that just got removed this week.
The game started ominously enough when the LA Galaxy’s defense broke down in the 8th minute and this allowed Erik Hurtado, who had a genuinely excellent night, left wide open for a header that beat his defender, Ashley Cole, and Brian Rowe. Rowe said after the game that he didn’t even want to look at the ball because he was sure it was in. But miraculously it hit off the underside of the bar and stayed out.
The LA Galaxy received more bad news when they were forced to make two first half subs. Steven Gerrard came out injured in the 31st minute apparently with a hamstring issue. Then just 13 minutes later, Jelle Van Damme was forced to leave with a left knee injury. And up until the 44th minute Van Damme had been the Galaxy’s most potent and consistent defense and offensive weapon.
In Gerrard’s place stepped Gyasi Zardes who took up a position on the right wing for Sebastian Lletget who pushed into the center of the formation at midfield. And Daniel Steres entered the game for Jelle Van Damme as a like for like replacement.
Lletget was the star of the night. He played in a position we haven’t seen him much. He was the central attacking midfielder that was able to create, work the ball side to side and find some seams vertically. That allowed players like Giovani Dos Santos to be more free and search for openings in the tightly packed Vancouver defense.
It was Lletget who partnered with Alan Gordon in the 72nd minute to make for the most dangerous chance on goal. Lletget was able to push through the Vancouver defense, and before getting clipped, got the ball to Gordon who fired wide by just inches. It was the most dangerous chance on goal for the Galaxy but one of many promising buildups that couldn’t find the quality in the final pass or shot.
In the end Gyasi Zardes had to be subbed off the pitch either due to injury or being exhausted from the minutes he’s endured in the last month.
Robbie Rogers also played well on defense and added another spark to the struggling offense. He was quick on his feet and got forward often. But his crosses rarely found space and he was a key factor in the Galaxy’s 8 corners. But again, his crosses have always need just more bend to get around the players who are defending him.
The LA Galaxy have scored just five goals in August while allowing six and have seen their lack of scoring and lack of Victory’s leave them stagnant in the standings when other teams have stumbled as well. They currently sit in 4th place in the western conference, just three points behind both Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids.
If you’re looking for the story of this match it’s the two early subs. Anytime a team is forced to make subs to two of their most influential players, and Jelle Van Damme is on of the most important players to this game, then your strategy or your takeaway from this game is going to be different.
The LA Galaxy needed three points tonight. It would’ve pushed them into ties with 2nd place and ratcheted them closer to a playoff spot with just 8 games remaining. But you can’t discount what the injuries and early subs did to the team on the field.
Alan Gordon shouldn’t need to go 90 minutes. Robbie Rogers, according to Bruce Arena should’ve been subbed in the 70th minute.
“It’s good to get him back; he’s a little rusty. If we had the opportunity, we maybe would have taken him out 70 minutes into the game, but burning two substitutions in the first half made that option really difficult. I think he did a good job hanging in there. He’s a little bit rusty, but it’s good to get him back.” Bruce Arena, LA Galaxy Head Coach
Even Sebastian Lletget probably gets subbed in this game if the Galaxy had the manpower to do it. So it limits the effectiveness of the guys you were trying to give a little rest to. The last thing Arena wanted to do was for Zardes to have to play the minutes he got tonight. This team is tired. And if you want to blame old legs for that you can. Except that two of the players that got injured tonight don’t have old legs.
But whatever August was, it’s now behind this team. And they have 8 games and 24 possible points to make a run at the Supporters Shield (easily within their grasp with 3 games against the current leaders, FC Dallas) and a good spot in the playoffs – top two teams in the conference get a first round bye. It will be an uphill battle, but with a full week off before their next home game, it might be the perfect time for this team to get healthy and start surprising people.
The LA Galaxy will next face off against the Columbus Crew on Saturday September 3rd at StubHub Center.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Sebastian Lletget played perfectly on the night. He moved into the vacated Gerrard role and distributed while being dangerous. He was protected defensively with De Jong as his backstop and would’ve been the reason if the Galaxy could choose to finish. Vancouver did well on the night trying to contain the Galaxy offense and they 100% succeeded. But Sebastian Lletget played with determination, smarts and fluid football that should see him play there again if Gerrard isn’t able to go.