Los Angeles Soccer: Chad Barrett
CARSON -- The Galaxy are deep into their transition from woeful underachievers to Major League Soccer title contenders, and although the cast of contributors is steadily growing -- just like last year -- it's the three Designated Players who have made the difference.
It was so again Saturday night, when L.A. pounded archrival Chivas USA, 3-1, as Landon Donovan scored a pair of goals, Robbie Keane added another plus an assist, and David Beckham picked up two assists in front of 25,180 at Home Depot Center.
The Galaxy (9-10-3, 30 points) have won six of nine games since returning in mid-June from Major League Soccer's three-week World Cup qualifying break -- they probably should have won the three they didn't -- to cement their hold on fifth place in the Western Conference, building a seven-point cushion on the Goats (6-8-5, 23 points) and eight on Colorado (7-13-1, 22 points). Fifth place, of course, gets the final playoff berth.
“We're getting there,” said Donovan, who netted his eighth and ninth goals of the season and his sixth and seventh in the past nine games. “We've gotten better and better. ... I think we're getting there. I think we're starting to figure out what combination of guys on the field play well together and work well, and a lot of guys are doing a lot of dirty work to make plays so that the few of us can just focus on getting in front of the goal and scoring.”
The Galaxy has 22 goals in their last eight games after scoring just 16 in their first 14, and Donovan, Keane and Beckham have scored 17 of them (with 12 assists, too). They're more explosive than they were at any point in last year's championship run, and if the defensive lapses can be conquered -- Omar Gonzalez saw his second action of the season, a real plus in this regard -- L.A. might be the team to beat again come November.
Keane scored in the 14th minute from a Beckham through ball, netted another six minutes later from Donovan's through ball -- that one was waved off by an offside call that replays suggested was in error -- then fed Donovan's sprint for the second goal three minutes into the second half. Donovan, who twice hit posts, secured all three points from a scramble following a Beckham corner kick in the 78th minute.
“I think [Keane and Donovan] combined for a number of opportunities tonight and were outstanding, and certainly David as well with that group ...” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “We're scoring an awful lot of goals [with Donovan partnering Keane at forward], right? It's been pretty damn good. It really has.”
Former Galaxy midfielder Paolo Cardozo scored his first MLS goal in the 52nd minute for Chivas, firing just inside the right post from the top of the box with L.A. goalkeeper Josh Saunders screened from the shot. Chivas had more chances, but none of them particularly dangerous.
CARSON -- Omar Gonzalez was back on the field, and the Galaxy so dominated portions of the action Wednesday night that they should have been fairly certain of a victory well before halftime arrived.
Those were the pluses from the annual Fourth of July festivities at Home Depot Center, but they were greatly outnumbered by all that went wrong: squandered chances, defensive breakdowns, an inability to close out halves.
It all added up to a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia that, following last weekend's collapse against San Jose, has all but erased the glowing memories of the three-game winning streak that suggested the old Galaxy, the championship Galaxy, was back.
SoCal boy Michael Farfan set up one goal and scored the other, netting the winner five minutes into second-half stoppage, to give the Union (4-9-2, 14 points) their first win in five meetings with L.A. (6-10-2, 20 points), which kept pace with fifth-place Colorado in the Western Conference but lost ground to Real Salt Lake, Seattle and Vancouver, which sit second through fourth.
“The reality is we should be five wins in a row right now, and now we find ourselves behind the eight-ball a little bit again,” captain Landon Donovan said. “It's difficult to take, but the reality is now it's over. We can either moan about it or we can wake up tomorrow morning and get ready for [Sunday's game at] Chicago.”
The Galaxy created more than a half-dozen outstanding chances but managed to stick just one of them, Chad Barrett's 73rd-minute equalizer after Robbie Keane got the slightest of touches to a feed from Todd Dunivant. It wasn't nearly enough.
Keane ought to have had a hat trick in the first 25 minutes, David Junior Lopes hit the crossbar in the second half, and had David Beckham not been stuck in a luxury box -- next to Chelsea's Frank Lampard, rumored to be in L.A.'s sights -- following his foolish red card in the loss to San Jose, the Galaxy might have gotten something out of two late, close-range free kicks, one of them in the semicircle.
Keane's first two chances -- after pushing through two defenders at the top of the box, then beating goalkeeper Zac MacMath on the dribble in the fourth minute, then after stepping past MacMath to the left of the net in the 11th -- were cleared off the goal line, by Carlos Valdes and then Sheanon Williams. His third, a blast inside the box in the 25th, was parried by MacMath, who faced 16 shots but had to make just four saves.
“We gave the game away,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “That's a game we should have walked away comfortably with three points, in my opinion. Too many chances in the first half that were wasted. Poor concentration at the end of the first half cost us a goal. And just an extremely poor effort at the end of the game to get exposed and to give up the point we worked so hard to get.”
CARSON -- British reports claim the Galaxy has offered Chelsea's Frank Lampard a two-year, $20 million offer, and that the veteran central midfielder is strongly considering a move to Los Angeles.
It's not the first time Lampard's name has been linked to the Galaxy, but the reports have never been so specific.
Several outlets made the claim, none identifying their sources, but David Beckham lobbied his former England teammate last year and club owner AEG president Tim Leiweke has publicly expressed interest in signing the star.
“I'm a fan of Frank's. I think he's a great player. When I think of Chelsea, I think of Frank Lampard ...,” Leiweke told Sky Sports in January. “It took us two years to get David to come here the first time.
“We're working on the next [Designated Player], and we'll continue to work on the next DP. There are a half-dozen guys we have a good relationship with, and we'll see how that goes. But first we've got to have a spot, and at the moment we don't have a spot.”
The Galaxy still doesn't have a spot. MLS clubs may sign up to three DPs, whose salaries go beyond the $350,000 maximum hit to the salary cap. Beckham, Landon Donovan and Irish striker Robbie Keane occupy L.A.'s slots.
Sources with knowledge of the talks confirmed to ESPN Los Angeles that AEG is holding discussions with Lampard's representatives.
Lampard, who turned 34 on June 20, still has one year on a Chelsea contract that pays him about $12 million a year. He's been with the Blues since 2001 and captained them, in John Terry's absence to suspension, to triumph over Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League final in May.
He is considered one of the finest midfielders of his generation and has played in two World Cups and two European Championships for England, including Euro 2012, in which the English reached the quarterfinals.
Two first-half free kicks were put away by Leonardo and Chad Barrett as the Galaxy claimed a 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers to vault from fifth to second place in the West Division standings with a 2-1 victory at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Ore. It's L.A.'s first win that counts since the April 21 MLS triumph at Colorado and the first of any sort since a reserve friendly three days later against the L.A. Blues, a span of nine games in all.
The biggest news was Saunders' first game appearance since entering Major League Soccer's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health treatment program at the end of April, but that was quickly overshadowed when Leonardo, just back from a devastating knee injury suffered 13½ months ago, appeared to reinjure his right knee after a collision in L.A.'s box with Timbers forward Sebastian Rincon.
There was no immediate diagnosis on Leonardo, who appeared anguished while lying on the turf, was comforted by several teammates, and had to be stretchered to the sideline.
The Brazilian center back tore several knee ligaments near the end of an April 2011 MLS game in Chicago, including the anterior cruciate and, worse, the lateral collateral, requiring two surgeries and an extended rehabilitation. He made a brief appearance in the April 24 game against the Blues, played a half in the May 8 Reserve League match with San Jose, was activated from the MLS Disabled List on May 18, made the 18-man game-day rosters (but did not play) for the last three MLS matches, and went the full 90 in Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup loss at the Carolina RailHawks.
He went down just five minutes after giving the Galaxy a quick lead, volleying home a free kick that Kyle Nakazawa curled toward the left post. L.A. got its second goal in the 30th, also on a Nakazawa free kick, from the right edge of the box. Jack McBean, beyond the far post, headed the ball into the goalmouth, and Barrett outleapt Eric Alexander to nod it home.
Alexander scored on a 69th-minute penalty kick for Portland after Rafael Garcia fouled Brent Richards.
Saunders, who remains in the SABH program but returned to training May 21, looked solid in his first action since April 21. He did well on crosses into the box, ably cut off balls meant for Portland's forwards and made all the saves he was supposed to make, none of them particularly difficult.
The Brazilian center back went the full 90 minutes, not by plan, in L.A.'s third-round loss in Cary, N.C., to the Carolina RailHawks, who will be home for next week's round-of-16 clash against Chivas USA, the third successive Southern California side the second-tier club will face in the nearly century-old competition.
That's about it on the plus side.
The Galaxy's season-long slide dipped a little deeper with the 2-1 defeat, in which they surrendered a lead for the third straight game and were beaten for the sixth time in seven outings. No, they didn't have their big guns -- only Chad Barrett, Leonardo and maybe David Junior Lopes among the first XI could be considered “starters,” and none are first choice at their positions. One of the lessons from an evening in which seven of 14 Major League Soccer clubs in action were eliminated by lower-division foes: Those who used virtual first-choice lineups won, and those who didn't lost.
It was more pronounced for the Galaxy, which had to spend all three substitutions on injuries -- one of them apparently significant -- and was unable to make tactical swaps nor pull off fatigued players as Carolina took charge down the stretch.
Hector Jimenez's demise was the low point. He had to be carted off, RailHawks midfielder Amir Lowery on one shoulder, with a knee injury after a rough tackle near the end of the first half. He couldn't put weight on his left leg, and it looked serious. The Galaxy have provided no updates but he'll undergo a scan now that the team is back in Los Angeles.
Barrett left while cramping 20 minutes into the second half. Bryan Gaul, who like Jimenez has seen increased first-team time, left just before Ty Shipalane's 75th-minute equalizer after he was hit in the face during an aerial battle in the Galaxy box. His left eye was puffed up, but it appeared to be nothing serious.
“Three guys who have actually been playing game and three guys that would have been good to go 90 minutes,” midfielder Michael Stephens noted in his postgame media session. “It was really unfortunate, and I think you saw that. A lot of guys ran out of legs down the stretch.”
Include Leonardo in that group. He'd played just twice in games this spring -- 11 minutes in an April 24 reserve friendly against the L.A. Blues and one half in an MLS Reserve League game with San Jose on May 8 -- and was on the 18-man roster, but did not play, in the last three league games.
“Remarkable we got 90 minutes out of him tonight ...,” Arena said. “We didn't anticipate him playing that long, but once we had those injuries and we had to make all our changes, he had to stay in there. He did a good job. He obviously got tired at the end.”
Shriver, who scored four goals in the North American Soccer League club's second-round win over Irvine's PSA Elite last week, headed Shipalane cross at Galaxy goalkeeper Bill Gaudette, who made the save as he fell backward. The ball bounced in front, then skidded slowly over the goal line and into the net.
The RailHawks, who are winless in the NASL, will be home for next Tuesday's fourth round against the winner of Tuesday night's Ventura County Fusion-Chivas USA clash.
The Galaxy exit America's oldest and most prestigious knockout competition in their opener for the fourth time and the first since 2009. L.A. has lost four in a row -- the last three after giving away the lead -- and have dropped six of their last seven matches. Their winless streak in all competitions has reached eight games.
Pat Noonan, who wore the captain's armband, gave L.A. a 38th-minute lead from Chad Barrett's feed after Hector Jimenez stole a pass from RailHawks defender Austen King.
Shipalane scored from a feed by former New England Revolution forward Zack Schilawski in the 75th minute as Carolina, playing before a record crowd of nearly 8,000 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., took charge in the final 20 minutes.
The Galaxy, weary in their fourth game in 11 days, lost two players to injury. Jimenez departed just before halftime with a potentially serious knee injury, and left back Bryan Gaul leaving with about 20 minutes left after he was hit in the eye during an aerial battle in Carolina's box.
Noonan could have forced overtime deep into stoppage, but he fired over the crossbar after a Rafael Garcia feed left him one-on-one with former FC Dallas/Columbus Crew goalkeeper Ray Burse.
The Galaxy heads into Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup game in North Carolina without seven starters, and that includes David Beckham, all three established backliners and those two big names who are off playing for their national teams.
It's a reserve side they'll field for the third-round game against the Carolina RailHawks, but that no reflection on how much L.A. wants to win. Nor the clamor to watch them try to do so.
Winning a third title in America's biggest cup competition would be nice, sure, but the Galaxy could use any sort of victory about now. They're at the bottom of Major League Soccer's Western Conference (at 3-8-2) after failing to win in their last seven MLS games -- with four losses in their last five outings.
And stars or no stars, the fans around Raleigh and Durham snapped up the tickets as soon as they went on sale, all 8,000-plus, with the RailHawks adding a temporary stand to increase capacity at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.
“We know it’s a tough environment to play against,” Galaxy forward Edson Buddle told media in Cary on Monday. “I heard there’s going to be a few more people at the game than normal. ... It seems every team we play against, they really look forward to this game, and they raise their game.”
The RailHawks will need to. They're 0-4-5 in the second-tier North American Soccer League, and they've been struggling since former manager Martin Rennie, two-thirds through last season, was announced last August as the Vancouver Whitecaps' future coach, a deal took effect in November. Carolina was the NASL's best team at the time, and it is 4-10-6 since.
Colin Clarke, who guided the Puerto Rico Islanders (with Galaxy goalkeeper Bill Gaudette) past L.A. in the CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round two years ago, is trying to restore some luster to the RailHawks. He's got an experienced roster, with nine former MLS players -- including veteran forward Jason Garey, who spent five years with Columbus and last season at Houston, plus former FC Dallas/Columbus goalkeeper Ray Burse and former New England forward Zack Schilawski -- and former U.S. youth national team star Gale Agbossoumonde, on loan from Portugal's Estoril Praia.
“We have a lot of talent, a lot of guys who played in MLS,” former Colorado/San Jose/Kansas City midfielder Amir Lowery told local media. “We’re not necessarily strangers to that level, so we’re not afraid of anybody.”
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena understands the lower division-versus-upper division dynamic that will be at work.
“It always does play a role [in these games],” he said. “Every time you play a lower-division team, they're certainly going to be ready to play, and the game means a lot to them.”
Everything is beating up on the Galaxy these days, and it was the heat's turn Saturday afternoon. L.A. wilted in the Houston humidity and watched another early lead disappear to fall to the Dynamo, 2-1, in an MLS Cup rematch.
Edson Buddle ended a 2½-month drought with a fine goal in the 10th minute, but the Galaxy -- missing Juninho in addition to Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane -- offered little else aside from David Beckham set pieces as their winless streak reached seven games, longest in more than three years.
A bit of misfortune cost L.A. the first goal and Houston's set-piece supremacy paid off with the winner six minutes into the second half, and the Dynamo (4-3-4, 16 points) remained unbeaten in front of another sellout crowd at new BBVA Compass Stadium.
The Galaxy (3-8-2, 11 points), who will sit in the Western Conference cellar at least until their next league match June 17, have lost five of their last six games and are off to their worst 13-game start since 2006 and third-worst in club history. They've dropped more MLS games this season than in any of the past three full campaigns.
The heat -- 91 degrees with the index well into triple figures -- played the biggest role on the match, sapping both teams' energy, but more so the Galaxy, which isn't used to the climate. The game was virtually finished when Andre Hainault headed home Brad Davis' corner kick for a Dynamo advantage, and L.A., even with substitutions, was pressed just to keep up throughout the second half.
“Whoever scheduled these game in Houston at 3 o'clock in the afternoon doesn't know anything about the game,” Beckham told reporters afterward. “It's difficult both both teams, as much as they're used to playing in this heat, they're used to training in it. No one enjoys these games. ... It's not good for the fans, not good for the players.”
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena agreed.
“We should never be playing under these conditions,” he said. “The scheduling is poor. Teams playing on Wednesday [as the Galaxy did, losing to San Jose] shouldn't be traveling or playing teams that are rested on a Saturday in heat. We have to find a way to [deal with this] better. ...
“[When the league started] many years ago, we had these issues, playing early afternoon in the summer months, and it became obvious it was something we shouldn't be doing. ... We've tried to emphasize that. It's not understood yet, and, obviously, there are issues with television, but it's not fair to our teams under these circumstances. It's something that has to get corrected.”
The Galaxy came out strong, got the goal they needed, then watched everything slow down, at times to a crawl, just as expected.
More significant, perhaps, was Hector Jimenez's performance in a new position.
The second-year winger from Bell Gardens was terrific as right back, teaming with Michael Stephens on the flank as L.A. dictated terms nearly the entire match before settling for a 1-1 draw on the Galaxy's training field at Home Depot Center.
Jimenez, who would be playing decent first-team time with a lot of Major League Soccer clubs but is caught behind L.A.'s deep, veteran midfield core, said he'd played as an outside back “toward the end of last year in a reserve game for a few minutes” but that this was otherwise a debut.
“I felt good,” he said. “I thought offensively I got involved a lot, it's just the defensive part, where I need to get used to checking the [restraining] line and stuff like that, but I thought I played good for the 90 minutes.”
Galaxy assistant coach Curt Onalfo, who runs the reserve side, agreed.
“The interesting thing sometimes in sport is when through injury and that sort of stuff you end up shifting things around, and sometimes all of a sudden something pops up that maybe you haven't seen. And I think that's the case.
“If you look at his game and you compare it to when he plays in midfield, he had just as much an influence going forward -- or maybe even more. The combination of Mikey Stephens coming inside and [Jimenez] overlapping, I thought was good. Would have liked to see more goals from it. It was a game where we possessed and had really the majority of possession, the majority of play. It's a game where you think you're going to get three points from.”
CARSON -- The Galaxy are living and dying from the penalty spot these days, and after the turn of events early in the second half Saturday night, it didn't look as if there was a whole lot of life in them.
Ah, appearances can be deceiving.
Pat Noonan netted a huge first goal with L.A., finishing a stoppage-time scramble in FC Dallas' box to deliver a 1-1 draw in an often invigorating clash that was otherwise defined by Bill Gaudette's fine play in the nets and a pair of penalty kicks that looked certain to doom the Galaxy to another home defeat.
They instead pulled out a point with an ending that, if not enough to nail down a third successive victory, could be as galvanizing as Josh Saunders' penalty-kick stop to beat Colorado a week ago.
“We getting a goal in extra time, can't be complaining about the point,” said head coach Bruce Arena, who might have had reason to complain anyway. “It's that simple. We missed a penalty. We had some good chances during the game. There weren't a whole lot of chances in the game for either team, but we had enough to get ourselves two or three goals and didn't. ... The team plays that hard and gets a point at the end like that, I think that's a positive.”
Robbie Keane missed the penalty kick, with a chance to take the lead in the 49th minute, and Brek Shea converted from the spot 12 minutes later to provide Dallas an advantage that lasted almost to the finish. But Arena made smart substitutions -- Adam Cristman, Chad Barrett and Noonan, all of them second-half submissions, combined on the winning goal -- and L.A. (3-3-1) got more than they might have on a night in which they weren't quite crisp enough.
Gaudette, making his first-team debut for L.A., was outstanding in place of Saunders, who bowed out to deal with what the team called “personal matters.” The veteran keeper has a history at HDC -- he made his first MLS appearance here in 2005 for Columbus and two years ago helped the Puerto Rico Islanders to a 4-1 win over the Galaxy in the CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round -- so when he saw his name on the board when he walked into the locker room Saturday afternoon, he was ready.
He made three huge saves -- diving to stop George John's quick deflection of a Daniel Hernandez free kick in the 18th minute, parrying Shea in the 21st and leaping to tip away a looping, off-balance Blas Perez header moments after Keane's miss -- but committed the foul that gave Shea the ball at the spot.
Most of the blame on that play goes to David Junior Lopes, making his third start since arriving in a trade from Chivas nearly three weeks ago. Lopes struggled with the ball at his feet the entire match and made several mistakes, none as debilitating as his poor attempt to chest the ball from a Jair Benitez cross back to Gaudette.
Perez raced past him to take possession, and Gaudette took him down. Shea's shot left Gaudette no chance.
CARSON -- Leonardo hadn't made a game appearance in more than a year, and if he's not quite ready to jump back into battle, he deserves some reward for the work he has put in rehabbing a nasty knee injury.
So the Galaxy's Brazilian center back was given a little more than 10 minutes in a closed-door friendly Tuesday against the L.A. Blues, his first action in an actual match since shredding all of his ligaments in his right knee -- anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments, the two worst to tear, included -- a year and a week earlier.
“Psychologically, it's great for him,” reserve-team coach Curt Onalfo said after his side held on for a 3-2 victory over the Blues on the Galaxy's training field at Home Depot Center. “He had trained earlier [with the first team], and we wanted to get him in just so, psychologically, [we] can help him progress. It's been a long road, and he's really made progress, so it was good to see him out there for 10 minutes.”
Leonardo, who came on for Tommy Meyer in the 35th minute and played until halftime, is eligible to come off the disabled list for Saturday night's Major League Soccer match against FC Dallas at HDC, but he's still several weeks away, so the club is not ready to make that move.
“We're going to see how he progresses,” Onalfo said. “He's made significant progress, and now the next step is for him to train consistently and start getting more minutes and just more 11-v-11 type stuff. He's doing a good job. ... We want to get him back as quickly as possible. So hopefully in the next month we can incorporate him more and more in the stuff we do as a reserve team so he gets himself prepared to be with the first team.”
Leonardo, who was acquired on loan from Sao Paulo in 2010 and purchased outright before this season began, started the first seven games in central defense for the Galaxy last year. He tore up his knee while challenging Dominic Oduro in the closing minutes of a victory April 17 at Chicago, underwent surgery a week later and required an additional procedure last November after his rehab in Brazil hit a snag.
He returned to training with the first team last month and has several steps to take before he can begin battling A.J. DeLaGarza, David Junior Lopes, Meyer and Andrew Boyens for time in central defense. This appearance was a significant step.
“I think it was a very important 10 minutes,” Leonardo, whose target to return to the first team is “maybe next month,” said in Spanish through an interpreter. “I need more playing time. I need more time on the field to get back. ... It's very different when you're out there 11 on 11 on the full field as opposed to the small-sided games I've been doing.”
CARSON -- It's too soon to declare things are back to normal in Galaxyland, but Saturday night's triumph over the Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center offered a lot of evidence that L.A. is starting to turn a corner after an abysmal first 5½ weeks of the season.
Juninho and David Beckham scored late goals from distance and the Galaxy (2-3-0, 6 points) overcame a first-half deficit to claim a 3-1 triumph, vaulting past the struggling Timbers (1-4-1, 4 points) and out of the Western Conference basement with a performance that ranged from decent to really good.
L.A. had more spirit, more energy, better organization and a liveliness that has been missing during its roughest stretch since coach Bruce Arena took charge in August 2008, but the message in the locker room was simple: This was just a start.
“It's early,” said captain Landon Donovan, who scored a fine goal from Robbie Keane's feed just before halftime and set up Beckham's beauty in second-half stoppage. “It's important, because you can't sit on the bottom for too long, so it was good to get ourselves out of the cellar. We played better [than we had been] last week [in a loss at unbeaten Sporting Kansas City], and today was, I think, our best performance all-around of the season.
“And then we have to keep carrying it to the coming weeks. It's not good enough to have a couple better games, then have a bad game. We have to be consistently better, and I think we're getting back to doing things we're good at.”
A superb debut from Brazilian center back David Junior Lopes, who was acquired in a trade Tuesday from Chivas USA, was pivotal for the Galaxy, which conceded a goal to Kris Boyd in the 23rd minute, then dictated terms the rest of the way. Lopes needed a little time to find his footing, then provided everything L.A. hoped for -- adding a physical dimension to the backline that has been missing without Omar Gonzalez's presence -- and a little more.
He made three huge defensive plays, bodying Scottish finisher Boyd out of contention in the 10th and 51st minutes and sliding the ball away from Jorge Perlaza at the top of the box in the 85th, and admirably partnered rookie Tommy Meyer as A.J. DeLaGarza sat out because of adductor tightness.
Lopes, who hadn't played in Chivas' first five games, should have scored two goals, too. A cross headed back into the goalmouth by Mike Magee caromed off his thigh and over the crossbar in the 69th minute -- “I didn't see the ball,” he said -- and a blast following a Beckham corner kick four minutes later was cleared off the line by Franck Songo'o.
“I was definitely nervous,” Lopes said. “I've played many places and in many leagues, and the first game [for a new club] I've always been very nervous. But I was excited. It took me awhile to get going to realize I'm playing for the Galaxy, one of the biggest clubs in MLS. ... I think I did OK for my debut.”
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.
CARSON -- Chad Barrett's sharpness in front of the net was the biggest plus for the Galaxy in their loss to Chivas USA in Monday's MLS Reserve League opener, and it opens the door to changes that might ignite L.A.'s attack in the real games.
Barrett, who started 27 first-team games last year but missed the MLS Cup final after a gruesome foot dislocation, tallied twice from Adam Cristman feeds in the 4-2 defeat and came close to a hat trick in the closing minutes.
“Just feels good to hit the back of the net in the run of play again,” Barrett said following the game on the Galaxy's Home Depot Center training field. “Haven't done a lot of that since I got back. Just getting the confidence and striking it. … Little disappointed didn't [get the third] at the end, but it wouldn't have changed the outcome.”
Barrett, who scored eight goals in competitive matches last season, returned to training in February and played in the final two preseason matches. He has started once and come off the bench in the other four Major League Soccer and CONCACAF Champions League matches this year. These were his first goals against opposition.
He might be the answer for a disconnected Galaxy attack. Despite Robbie Keane's public protests to the contrary, Edson Buddle has not built much chemistry with the Galaxy's Irish star, who had a nice on-field relationship with Barrett last year.
Buddle, who returned at the end of January after a year in Germany, delivered a superb through ball for Keane's goal in Saturday's loss to New England, but that kind of connection has not been evident often. One of the defining images of the 3-1 defeat was Keane angrily responding when Buddle, on a breakaway, fired wide from the top of the box with Keane open for a simple finish just to his right.
The problems up top are secondary to the troubles at the back, which were further illuminated by four Chivas goals -- three by Cesar Romero, who teamed with Miller Bolaños to dominate rookie center backs Tommy Meyer and Bryan Gaul -- after L.A. gave up 11 in their first five first-team matches.
“I wish I had a remedy for it. Unfortunately, I'm on the other -- attacking -- side ...,” said Barrett, who noted the Galaxy's defensive approach involves all 11 players on the field. “Right now it seems we've got a little but of lack of communication, lack of a sense of pride, both in the reserve game and the other games. We just don't have that same mentality, that same charisma we had last year, and that's something we need to find quick or we'll find ourselves at the bottom of the table, like we are now.”
CARSON -- Chivas USA's offensive problems, Robin Fraser believes, come down to mindset. The Goats need players willing to “go for it” if they're going to score goals and win games.
Cesar Romero has a message for Fraser: He can be that guy.
The first-year forward from San Diego scored a second-half hat trick Monday to lead Chivas past the Galaxy, 4-2, in an MLS Reserve League opener on L.A.'s training field at Home Depot Center, and after humbly noting that it “feels very good to win” and that he needs to “keep working hard to win my spot, try to win my time,” a little of his swagger crept through.
“When I'm coming into the game, in my head I'm like, 'When I'm going to score?' ” Romero said. “And if I get a chance, in my head, you know what? It's going to be in the back of the net. That's my confidence.”
He sparked the Goats to a 3-0 lead, crossing for Miller Bolaños' header in the 54th minute, finishing from Bolaños' feed five minutes later, then volleying a Blair Gavin cross in the 64th. He scored his third in the 86th after Chad Barrett had pulled two back for L.A.
“Cesar, he's a dangerous player,” Fraser said. “He makes good runs in behind, and if he continues to do that, I think he'll score goals in this league.”
Chivas (1-3-0) could use goals. They've scored just one (from just eight real chances) in their first four Major League Soccer outings, wasting outstanding defensive performances in three 1-0 losses.
“Are we producing enough opportunities? Absolutely not. Absolutely not,” Fraser said. “But a little bit of it, I think, is a shift in our mindset. To create goalscoring chances, you've got to just go, you've got to go for it. And I felt like today we did a decent job of that. We did a decent job of looking to play in behind, guys running in behind, and we have talented players. So we put ourselves into position where we can make plays, where we can make half-opportunities into whole opportunities.
“So I think the lesson to be learned for us is we've talked about being aggressive -- for a long time we've talked about it -- but really when you see it in practice and you just go for it, you just create more chances and you have to be willing to do it.”