GALAXY: Defense is no joking matter

April, 1, 2012
4/01/12
4:51
PM PT

Andrew Boyens Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireGalaxy defender Andrew Boyens slides for the ball from New England Revolution forward Saer Sene in the Galaxy's 3-1 loss to the Revolution.

CARSON -- The best news the Galaxy could hope for cropped up Sunday afternoon on Twitter.

“Great news!!!” defender Omar Gonzalez tweeted. “Rehab has been going so well that they moved up my return date: May 1st! #omarscomin' #ballin'”

Remember what day it is.

The Galaxy wishes Gonzalez could come back, good as new, a month from now, but it will likely be late summer at the soonest that the big center back, rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament, again steps onto the field.

Until then, who knows what happens. Gonzalez's tweet was a cruel joke: L.A. is in crisis without Major League Soccer's reigning Defender of the Year, as Saturday night's 3-1 loss to the New England Revolution so graphically illustrated.

The Galaxy won the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup titles last year for several reasons, but the biggest was how well they defended all over the field. They've shown little ability to do so without Gonzalez, bleeding goals during preseason and conceding 11 already in five competitive matches. L.A. needed 11 games to surrender 11 last year, and four of those came in the debacle at Real Salt Lake.

“What's different is that we're not scoring and we're not keeping the ball out of our nets,” said center back A.J. DeLaGarza, whose failure to deal with Kelyn Rowe on New England's 10th-minute opener started the Galaxy toward their third loss in four Home Depot Center matches this year. “On both sides of the ball, we’re not clicking. They had three crosses and they had three goals, so that’s unacceptable and is something that we’ve been working on in practice over the last two weeks, 'cause we know we haven’t done well in the first 3-4 games. But today, it didn’t pay off.”

The Galaxy was utterly, curiously listless against the Revs, showing none of the spirit and little of the advertised advances they've made in their game in the two weeks since their lone victory in five games, over D.C. United. The interim was supposed to correct the problems exploited by Toronto FC in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal and by Real Salt Lake in the MLS opener.

“Two weeks off, 10 days off, six weeks -- it doesn't really matter,” said forward Robbie Keane, the Galaxy's captain in Landon Donovan's absence (because of a quadriceps strain). “Regardless of two weeks. If you have two weeks off or three days off or two days off, we shouldn't be conceding goals the way we've been conceding them. We have to rectify that, and we have to rectify that very, very quickly, because the goals we've been conceding are very, very similar to previous games.”

Nearly every goal conceded has been from a defensive error, with a failure to mark the biggest problem. All four backline players struggled against the Revolution, and Gonzalez's replacements -- Andrew Boyens, who played against New England, and rookie Tommy Meyer -- have been particularly inadequate.

There are no real options to replace the 6-foot-5 Gonzalez, whose talent, physical tools and schooling from former teammate Gregg Berhalter guided his evolution into a dominant leader and defender. Some believe he was MLS's true MVP last year, and the arguments for him are compelling.

What can be done? The Galaxy looked at players overseas, but Juninho's and Edson Buddle's returns ate up whatever cash might have gone toward a foreign replacement. Boyens is a backup; Meyer might develop into a first-class center back, but he needs time and mentoring to get there. Leonardo could be back within the next month, but after missing a year (with torn knee ligaments), how long will it take him to return to fitness and then to his best form? There's nobody else on the roster.

So how about a trade? Might FC Dallas' big George John be available, perhaps for someone like Buddle. Chivas USA has three solid center backs -- offer Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Sarvas for Rauwshan McKenzie or Colombian John Alexander Valencia.

Whatever the answer, the Galaxy needs to move forward.

“It's frustrating,” right back Sean Franklin said. “We knew how good we were last year, and we knew that teams feared us last year. I don't think that no one fears us this year. Teams are coming into our home -- which they didn't do last year -- and beat us. That's something that we can't do.

“The positive is that we still have 30-some games left in the season, but we have to get things going right now before the end of the season.”

WORTH NOTING: New England coach Jay Heaps credited wingers Rowe and Lee Nguyen for the ease with which the Revs got behind the Galaxy backline. “It was a combination of keeping the ball and getting them a little bit stretched and then trying to find the holes,” said Heaps, a former Revs defender. “I think Lee and Kelyn did a good job of finding good spots, and when they were able to turn, well, that's when we were able to find spaces behind.” Said Rowe: “We were making runs in between the midfield and the backline, and that hurt them a little bit.” ... Rowe, a rookie out of UCLA, was thrilled with his first MLS goal. “It feels great to score anywhere, but back home in L.A., where I went to college, it just feels great. A bunch of family and friends were here, and to score in front of them is a great feeling.” ... Keane, on the frustration in the Galaxy locker room: “Everyone's upset. When you concede two goals in the space of three minutes -- basically, in their first attack they score. The whole team is frustrated. If you concede two goals and you're not frustrated, you have serious problems.” ... Donovan after the game said his ailing quad was coming along and that he anticipated being ready for next weekend's game at Sporting Kansas City. ... L.A. plays Chivas USA in an MLS Reserve League opener Monday morning at 11 on HDC's University Field 1, the Galaxy training field immediately southwest of the main stadium.

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