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Saturday, April 7, 2012
GALAXY: D better, but K.C. dominates

By Scott French



Could it possibly just be that the Galaxy isn't very good?

It's something worthy of consideration following their latest defeat, a 1-0 decision Saturday afternoon to a vastly superior Sporting Kansas City side, in which L.A.'s vaunted attack -- missing David Beckham, yes -- created nearly nothing against Major League Soccer's new standard-bearer.

It was an improvement over last weekend's loss to New England, in that the Galaxy was tight at the back and made K.C. work for its every opportunity, but hardly the stuff championship runs are made of.

Lawndale's Kei Kamara scored the only goal, [click the link to view a nice video feature on Kamara] and he should have had another, as Sporting became the first MLS club since the Galaxy in 1996 to start a campaign with five straight victories. The ex-Wizards dictated nearly every facet of the match, stringing passes together, opening space through possession and direct play, pressuring the Galaxy all over the field while denying them anything in midfield.

L.A. (1-3-0) got off just four shots, none on target -- K.C. has conceded only one or no shots on goal in four of its five wins -- and completed an abysmal 62 percent of its passes, a number that declined as it increasingly utilized Route 1 trying to get back into the game in the countdown to 90.

One team was outstanding, and that team wasn't the Galaxy.

“We came to compete today, but I don’t remember us connecting five passes in a row,” Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee told media afterward. “Sporting Kansas City played at a high level today. They’ve got some amazing players, and some good guys coming off the bench. … They’re a big, fast, athletic team. They’re getting hungrier and hungrier the more they win. They aren’t a team I’d like to play every day.”

The Galaxy lost most of the battles, seemed to lose every second ball, and struggled to keep the plot, goalkeeper Josh Saunders and striker Robbie Keane aside. Edson Buddle was a step or two slow and never really got involved -- Chad Barrett's entrance in the 56th minute sparked some life in L.A.'s offense -- and poor showings by Juninho in central midfield and right back Sean Franklin hurt as Kansas City, fueled with superb showings by Kamara and fellow winger Bobby Convey, dominant front man C.J. Sapong, central midfielders Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza, and center back Aurelien Collin, scored a triumph far more one-sided than the score suggests.

“I'm pretty sure they're not popping champagne in there [in the locker room],” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena replied when asked about his team's morale. “We have to work and get better. That's all.”

Rookie Tommy Meyer got the call in the “Omar Gonzalez” spot, and he fared well: He, A.J. DeLaGarza and left back Todd Dunivant were solid if overmatched by K.C.'s speed, size, athleticism, mobility (with wonderful off-the-ball movement) and ability to keep the ball rolling. The backline has taken much of the blame for the struggles this first month of the season, but more troubling might the Galaxy's inability not just to control midfield, but to compete in midfield. Espinoza did as he pleased in a man-of-the-match performance and was rewarded with Kamara's goal in the 40th minute.

It came following an aerial back-and-forth in midfield, with the Galaxy seemingly incapable of taking possession even for a fraction of a second. Kamara finally won the ball and quickly fed Espinoza, who made a virtually unopposed run to just above the Galaxy box and played the ball wide to Convey on the right flank.

Convey cut inside, drifting deeper, and chipped toward the far post. Kamara easily slipped past Franklin for a free header, which he deposited inside the right post.

Saunders could do nothing on the shot, but he'd done well to deny Thousand Oaks' Chance Myers with a diving save 15 minutes earlier and stood up to Kamara one-on-one about 10 minutes into the second half. Espinoza also came close, just firing wide of the left post in the 52nd minute.

The Galaxy created three real chances, two by Magee, who fired through the goalmouth (from an excellent Keane pass) in the seventh minute and just missed the target right before halftime. Barrett also shot through the goalmouth in the 82nd.

Beckham's absence, with what Arena called “an assortment” of minor injuries, surely had an impact -- “that will hurt our ability to create chances, but that was only part of the reason we were lacking offensively,” Donovan said -- but L.A. isn't getting the kind of contributions from role players, Magee excluded, that were so prominent in last season's success.

Right now they're not very good, and before then night's out, they could be at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, a dozen points off the lead.

K.C. head coach Peter Vermes warns not to dimiss them.

“[The Galaxy are] a good team,” he said. “There’s no doubt that they’re a very good soccer team, they have some big guns. When Landon Donovan comes into the game, he immediately is someone you have to watch in the transition. Robbie Keane, there’s not much I can say other than that the guy is a world-class player, excellent around the box.

“Make no mistake about it, we’ve been in [a difficult] situation before, like they are right now. Not all is lost, and they’re going to be around because of the guys they have in their lineup and on their roster.”

WORTH NOTING: Michael Stephens, rather than Marcelo Sarvas, took Beckham's slot in central midfield. He exited after rolling his ankle in the 75th minute but, L.A. officials said, could have returned. L.A. brought on Sarvas so they would not have just 10 men on the field while Stephens received medical attention. … Palos Verdes' Kyle Nakazawa made his Galaxy debut, coming on in the 72nd minute for Juninho. … K.C.'s possession officially was 59.6 percent, but the count near the end of the first half was 68 percent. ... L.A. is home next Saturday night against Portland. Livestrong Sporting Park (Kansas City, Kan.)
Sporting Kansas City 1, Galaxy 0

SKC -- Kei Kamara (Bobby Convey) 40

Sporting Kansas City: Jimmy Nielsen; Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Julio Cesar (Paulo Nagamura, 78), Roger Espinoza; Kei Kamara, Graham Zusi, Bobby Convey (Jacob Peterson, 69); C.J. Sapong (Teal Bunbury, 87). Unused subs: Michael Harrington, Jon Kempin, Lawrence Olum, Luke Sassano.

Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, Tommy Meyer, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Landon Donovan, Michael Stephens (Marcelo Sarvas, 77), Juninho (Kyle Nakazawa, 72), Mike Magee; Edson Buddle (Chad Barrett, 56), Robbie Keane. Unused subs: Andrew Boyens, Bill Gaudette, Bryan Jordan, Pat Noonan.

Yellow card: Donovan 90.

Referee: Jorge Gonzalez. Att.: 20,323.

Records: Sporting Kansas City 5-0-0, 15 points; Galaxy 1-3-0, 3 points.