The Galaxy seem to be in dire need of a victory Saturday afternoon when they visit Sporting Kansas City, Major League Soccer's best team, but Bruce Arena isn't panicking yet. Another loss would not necessarily be disastrous.
But after L.A.'s poor start hit bottom with last weekend's one-sided loss at home against New England, what's needed most is some coherence: in attack, certainly, but most of all on defense, and not just at the back, where there have been myriad problems since the season kicked off a month ago.
Arena wants to see more, of course, but he's not buying into the doomsday scenarios fueled by just one win in five games, including that CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal defeat to Toronto FC.
“I laugh when I hear the overreactions,” the Galaxy's head coach said before the Galaxy (1-2-0, 3 points) took off for Kansas. “There's 93 points out there in the league [still available] for us. If we were 3-0, it would be great. If we were 0-3, it wouldn't be the end of the world. That's the way it is. But, obviously, we want to start putting together some wins.”
It'll be a tall order against a Sporting side that's 4-0-0, possesses a vibrant, athletic attack and has conceded just one goal in victories over D.C. United, New England, FC Dallas and Chivas USA. Especially without David Beckham, who makes the Galaxy attack go.
Beckham did not travel to Kansas City because of what Arena called “an assortment of [injury] issues” -- back spasms, the old standby, is listed on the league injury report -- but Landon Donovan figures to return after missing last week's 3-1 loss to the Revolution with a quadriceps strain.
Manpower or the lack thereof is not the issue. Arena notes the Galaxy have “not been efficient on either end of the field,” although the whys and wherefores aren't so clear.
“If you want to make it all neat and tidy, you could probably list five things and say these are the reasons, but if those were the reasons, we would have that taken care of,” Arena said. “It's not as easy as you think. Sometimes, you've just got to go out and play well, and all things are taken care of. … Just play well, you've just got right somee of the plays you hadn't made previously, and you had a bit of luck, too. That's part of sports. And especially in soccer, where it's a low-scoring game. If you make a critical mistake, it makes a difference in the game. In basketball, you've got the next 50 points to deal with. It's different.”
Defensive errors -- at the back, yes, but also in midfield -- have been killing L.A.
“At the moment, it's like we have to score more goals than the team we're playing against, and that should never be the case,” forward Robbie Keane said. “You have to defend as a team, defend as a unit. You can't just put the blame on the defenders. As a team we have to take responsibility for that. Of course, you want to score as many goals as you can, but sometimes it's not as easy as it seems. As long as we defend well as a unit, I think we've got a chance to win any game because we've always got players in the team that's going to score goals and create chances.”
Keane cited “a lack of concentration … with the goals we've conceded. That's [what] the manager's been trying to install in the team this week.”
Donovan says the Galaxy “kind of got to get back to building blocks and starting over in some senses, because we're not doing what successful teams do. … If we don't do the things that we know we need to do to be successful, we're not going to have a chance, really, in any game, much less against a top team in their home stadium. So we've got to get back to doing things right.
“We could do everything right on Saturday, and we're still playing a team that's very good, so we could everything right and still lose.”
The biggest issues are a lack of focus, poor marking and inadequate pressure on the ball while defending, and the foundation of all of it is Omar Gonzalez's absence from the backline. Arena doesn't agree, telling ESPN this week that he doesn't think the center back's knee injury has made an impact “except for the fact that you're missing a quality player. We always have players missing. It's not any different. … Omar, I believe, missed the first three or four games of the season last year. To use that as an excuse, to me, is a little bit shallow … We're certainly less aggressive, but I don't think that has anything to do with the fact that Omar isn't around.”
Gonzalez missed the first three games last year, and L.A. went 1-1-1, the loss a 4-1 debacle at Real Salt Lake. Once he was on the field, L.A. took charge of the race and, well, we know how that turned out.
“Do you think we'd be 3-0 if we had Omar?” Arena asked when questioned about it this week. Who can be sure, but L.A. certainly would be more solid defensively, which is desperately needed.
“We'd like to believe that,” Arena said, “but he's not here.”
WORTH NOTING: The Galaxy leads the all-time series, 27-20-12, with two of the losses in pre-2000 shootouts. L.A. should have swept last year's games, but Omar Bravo's 90th-minute goal gave Sporting a 2-2 draw in K.C. in September. L.A. won the May meeting at HDC, 4-1, as Donovan scored twice and Beckham and Juan Pablo Angel also tallied. … Forwards Adam Cristman (concussion) and Pat Noonan (hip flexor strain) have come off the injured list. … Five previous clubs started 4-0-0, and three of them were the Galaxy (in 1996, 1998 and 2010). D.C. United did so in 1997 and Real Salt Lake last year. … MLS assist leader Graham Zusi, who has five, has had at least one helper in every game. … The only goal Sporting has conceded came on a free kick, by FC Dallas' Ricardo Villar.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Head coach: Peter Vermes
Key players: F/M Kei Kamara, F Teal Bunbury, F C.J. Sapong, M Graham Zusi, G Jimmy Nielsen, M Bobby Convey
Local guys: Kamara (Lawndale/Cal State Dominguez Hills), D Chance Myers (Thousand Oaks/UCLA), D Shawn Singh (UCLA).
Update: Sporting went 12-3-9 after playing its first 10 games on the road last season (in advance of its new stadium's debut), streaking to the Eastern Conference regular-season title. The ex-Wizards are bona fide favorites this year, behind a deep, explosive attack and superior athleticism all over the field. They've won their first four games, conceding one goal (or none) in three of the victories, including last week's 1-0 victory over Chivas USA, and have outshot their foes, 81-32. Zusi is the orchestrator, reigning league Rookie of the Year Sapong has three goals, and Kamara has a pair.
Out: D Omar Gonzalez (left ACL tear), D Leonardo (right ACL/LCL tears), G Brian Perk (sports hernia surgery).
Questionable: M David Beckham (back spasms), M Landon Donovan (left quad tightness).
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Out: G Eric Kronberg (lower back injury).
Livestrong Sporting Park (Kansas City, Kan.), 1 p.m.
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez
TV: ESPN (English) and ESPN Deportes (Spanish, 6 p.m.)
Radio: K-Talk (KTLK-AM/1150, English) and ESPN Deportes (KWKW-AM/1330, Spanish)