GALAXY: Olympic loss a 'black mark'
March, 27, 2012
By Scott French | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesThe Galaxy's Michael Stephens, right, came on as a late sub in Monday's U.S. game vs. El Salvador
CARSON -- Michael Stephens is expected to be back on the training field Thursday with the Galaxy, and his teammates know it's not where he wants to be.
Stephens was a late substitute in the United States' devastating defeat in an Olympic qualifier Monday night, sent on to help kill off the game. Instead, the Americans surrendered a goal more than four minutes into stoppage, and a 3-3 draw with El Salvador eliminated them from contention for this summer's London Games.
“It's disappointing for everyone,” defender Todd Dunivant said following the Galaxy's practice Tuesday morning at Home Depot Center. “Shows you can't take those things for granted.”
Stephens, a former UCLA star, had not played in the U.S. under-23 national team's first two group games in Nashville. He came on for Joe Corona in the 88th minute of the Group A finale in CONCACAF's qualifying tournament.
“I would have loved for Mikey to play in the Olympics,” said midfielder Mike Magee, who watched the game on television. “That was no way to leave the tournament. It was definitely frustrating when that last goal went in.”
The defeat's larger meaning -- and who deserves blame for the Americans' unexpected failure -- was debated Tuesday across the American soccer landscape. Dunivant and Magee noted that missing the Olympics is not the same as missing a World Cup, for which the U.S. last failed to qualify in 1986.
“I don't think anyone feels devastated,” Magee said. “Obviously, it's not what you want, but the main thing for soccer is definitely the World Cup. We want our young players to do better, and we want to go through [to the finals] at every level, but at the end of the day, it really doesn't matter in terms of the sport in our country.”
Dunivant saw another side.
“Ask any of those guys who were on that field whether this was a big deal or not,” he said. “Those guys had a chance to be in the Olympics, and how many athletes have said they've done that. Any of us would want that. Is it the end of the world? No. But it's certainly a black mark on U.S. soccer right now.”
Head coach Bruce Arena wasn't sure of Stephens' travel.
“We hadn't made any plans,” he said. “I suspect that he's headed back today. We never would have thought that this would be the day he'd be traveling back, so we didn't plan for it.”
WEEK OF WORK: The Galaxy had no game last weekend, so last week's training sessions -- after four games the first 12 days of the campaign -- were a little like revisiting preseason.
The Galaxy was able to work on problem areas, such as defending, and improving chemistry, especially between forwards Robbie Keane and Edson Buddle, who had trained together only a few times before and during the early onslaught of games.
What was accomplished?
“Just getting to know each other a little bit more. Getting a little bit more coordination,” said Arena, whose team Saturday takes on the New England Revolution at HDC. “Getting a little cleaner with some of our tactics. I think we're making progress.”
The time together has enabled L.A., Magee noted, to “get healthy and refreshed a bit and kind of reprioritize” after falling in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
“There weren't many times in preseason or the beginning of the season where we've all been together as a group ...,” he said. “We had a game Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday-Sunday, and that's no way to start a season.” Add in the preseason-ending tournament in Tucson, Ariz., and it was eight matches in 25 days.
“I think the biggest thing was just getting onto the training field again, which we haven't done [the past few weeks],” Dunivant said. “It's been, like, three weeks since we've had proper trainings where we've been able to work defensively and offensively. As a back four, we've been able to work on our shape and some of then things we've wanted to improve: clearances and marking on set pieces -- all those little things that make a huge difference in games, we haven't had a chance to train on.”
BIG REDS FANS: The Galaxy will be off Wednesday, but where they wish they were was at HDC taking on Mexico's Santos Laguna to start the Champions League semifinals. Instead, Toronto FC -- a 4-3 aggregate victor over L.A. in the quarterfinals -- is home for the first leg.
The Galaxy will be cheering on the team that ended one of their dreams this season.
“You want the MLS teams to do well, and they're the last MLS team in the [tournament],” Dunivant said. “Absolutely, we're behind them.”
The Reds are huge underdogs against Santos, which is expected to play in the third all-Mexico final -- against defending champion Monterrey or Pumas UNAM -- in four tournaments, since the switched to the current format in 2008. Last year's title game included Real Salt Lake.
“When Salt Lake was playing, you could definitely feel that sense of pride watching other MLS teams play,” Magee said. “[I'm] 100 percent rooting for Toronto.”
WORTH NOTING: Landon Donovan, who played for the U.S. side that reached the semifinals of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, isn't the only Galaxy Olympian. Assistant coaches Ian Feuer and Curt Onalfo were teammates at the 1992 Barcelona Games, and Arena was head coach of the 1996 Atlanta squad. … Defender Bryan Jordan (hamstring strain) and forward Adam Cristman (concussion) returned to training Monday. Both are “questionable” on the injury report, but only fitness issues might cloud their availablity. … Donovan skipped the on-field session Tuesday. He's dealing with “just the old aches and pains you get,” Arena said. … Home Grown Player signing Jose Villarreal, who underwent leg surgery in early February, has returned to training on a limited basis. He and forward Jack McBean are set to travel Sunday with the Galaxy Academy's U-18 team for the Real Sociedad XXVII Youth Invitational Tournament in Spain. They won't be available for L.A.'s MLS game April 7 at Sporting Kansas City nor for Monday morning's MLS Reserve League opener against Chivas USA, which will be played on the Galaxy's training field. … The Galaxy make their first appearance on NBC Sports Network against New England. … The Galaxy Academy's U-12 team won the Cal South National Cup, beating Pateadores, 1-0, in the title game on a goal by Inglewood's Daiquan Dawkins. Other National Cup winners: United FC (San Juan Capistrano) in U-13 boys, Legends FC (San Dimas) in U-12 girls and West Coast FC (Laguna Hills) in U-13 girls.