The LA Galaxy’s third game of their road trip was one they’d like to forget. But MLS is about managing the tough games, and the club isn’t there yet.
The road wasn’t a comfortable place for the LA Galaxy over the last eight days, and the 95-degree kick-off Temperature at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas didn’t help things either. So the Galaxy’s 4-0 loss to Dallas — their worst result since losing by the same score to the San Jose Earthquakes in October of 2020 — wasn’t a total shock. Except for the fact the Galaxy, for a good portion of the night, looked like the better team.
But weird things happen in Dallas. And Saturday night’s game is a perfect example of that very real statement.
Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney started a different lineup again — no two Galaxy lineups have been identical through 15 games this season. But Victor Vazquez got called into a false nine position between Kevin Cabral and Samuel Grandsir, and Dan Steres returned to the starting lineup for the first time since the Galaxy’s loss to Seattle on June 19.
All was well at the start of the game for LA. They pressed Dallas early, made them cough up a bunch of bad passes, and the Galaxy’s energy was enough to force the home side into many dangerous clearances. But when none of those chances fell, and with Dallas packing the defense into the box, the Galaxy were ripe for an odd mistake or two. And Dallas’ Ricardo Pepi was more than willing to make an example of
The first bad-bounce happened in the 27th-minute when an Andrés Ricaurte through-ball was redirected off of a wayward leg from Steres and right into the path of Pepi, who would have never been in position to score had the ball gone through untouched. Pepi would bang home the opening goal, and the Galaxy would start to feel the pressure. Though, they were far from out of the game.
The Galaxy would press Dallas into some more mistakes, but the weather, the non-stop games, and the “inefficiencies,” according to Vanney, saw the Galaxy slowly cede control of the game over to Dallas.
Derrick Williams would make the next Galaxy mistake when he mistimed a jump on the back post and allowed Pepi to blast home his second goal of the night just one minute before halftime.
“In general, I thought the effort of the group was there,” Vanney said after the loss. “It’s hot. It’s difficult. It’s MLS. Which is what some of these guys are learning a little bit about, which is three games in the week on the road, two at altitude, one in really warm, humid conditions. I’ve talked a lot this week with the group about just our inefficiencies on the field.
“Losing possessions when we can’t lose possessions between our lines, exposing ourselves, having to sprint and recovery. Too many of those moments in MLS, in the summer, and the tough conditions, and the tough places we have to play; there’s a cumulative effect to things, both physically and mentally.”
Vanney would challenge the Galaxy to come up with a response in the first 10 minutes of the second half, but there was no response. Instead, Dallas, and Pepi, scored their third goal on the night in the 50th minute as Pepi became the youngest player in MLS history to score three goals in a game (18 years, 196 days).
And from that point, it was more about managing the roster and the minutes than the scoreline.
“I told them I wanted to give them the opportunity for the next 10 minutes to come out and try to change the rhythm of the game,” Vanney said. “And then we give up another goal. So that was that.
“And at that point, it became preserving some of the guys who were grinding through this window a little bit. You know, some guys really had to suffer through it.”
But perhaps the biggest problem for the Galaxy is the continued unimpactful nature of Cabral’s play. Cabral had just three shots through the road trip, with none of them on goal, and didn’t factor into any of the games the Galaxy played.
“He didn’t have a ton of impact in the games in terms of those things – goals, and assists, and things like that,” Vanney confessed.” So that’s evident. That’s easy to see. Anybody can kind of see that stuff.
“I think he’s learning. He’s a young man who’s 21 just turned 22. I think the expectation when you have a DP tag is you’re coming in to light it up. But we see the value for him is that he still needs to fill out some physically. He needs to learn the league. He needs to learn to manage his physicality. I think some of his running is clever. And sometimes, we pick him up. And sometimes we don’t. Sometimes he tries to play in combinations so quick that it becomes like we turn over the ball in those moments, and he needs to sometimes just slow down just a little bit and connect with the group.
“So his intentions are good,” he continued. “He’s trying to adapt to things. And, you know, he will, as he continues to work through this. And so part of it for me is to try to help him learn, try to help him grow, and try to help him to adapt as we continue to move forward and the group continues to fill out. But for me, I didn’t expect him to come in and score ten goals. I think he’s been in good spots and hasn’t executed at times, and yeah, he needs to continue to learn and grow. But we think we, obviously, we know this is his future, and his upside is excellent.”
The Galaxy will limp home with one point out of a possible nine on the road trip. They will see their first days of actual rest and get home to see their families.
“I think it’s more physical than mental,” Kljestan said about the mental and physical tolls of challenging conditions and a short period of time between games. “We’ve all played three games in a week many times in our careers. But that’s probably peak MLS, as far as how hard it can be condition-wise, right? So two games at altitude, both of them actually very hot still, as well. And then this game really, really hot temperature-wise and a bit humid. So, you know, for some of our younger guys, for some of our foreign guys that are new to the league, I think that’s a real shock to the system.
“And so then we have to get them, and all of us, and me included, all of us to understand that in a game like that, you have to manage it really well. You have to manage the ball really well. You can’t piss it away easily.
“And so, like I said, this is a learning curve for us. This was really hard physically. We get a couple of days off now to rest and get back and see our families, which I think everyone is excited about, and then get back in on Tuesday with a three-day lead up to a big game at home against Portland.”
The Galaxy remain in third place in the Western Conference despite the loss and will want to focus on their home games as they’ll outnumber the away games by a count of 5 to 2 over the rest of July and through the entire month of August. And with injuries coming to an end – both Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Sega Coulibaly should be ready for the Galaxy’s game against the Portland Timbers on Friday (July 30, 2021- 7 P.M.; ESPN).
So while the Galaxy were fortunate to tread water through this road trip despite poor results, their place on the table remained solid. Perhaps just a bit of silver lining in what could amount to growing storm clouds if things don’t improve within the friendly confines of Dignity Health Sports Park.