It’s surely too early to describe the Galaxy, without a win in three games to begin the defense of their MLS crown and having crashed out of the hemisphere’s most prestigious club competition to a franchise that often resembles the Chivas USA of Canada, as a team in crisis.
But it is undeniable that with the foundation of the Galaxy’s success – its customarily rock-solid defense – shipping seven goals in just three games, something must be done before even the more forgiving MLS season prematurely slips away.
Arena hasn’t wanted to blame the season-ending knee injury to central defender Omar Gonzalez – the 2011 MLS Defender of the Year – for the Galaxy’s futility so far. But it’s apparent to everyone that his absence has affected the team more than Arena has so far publicly admitted.
Arena quite rightly pointed out after Tuesday’s game that there was plenty of culprits out there for the loss, the second consecutive one at Home Depot Center, a fortress for the club last year.
“We played poorly in both boxes and that was the difference in the game,” he said. “We didn’t get the job done at both ends of the field.
“Tonight we actually played very well,” he added. “It’s ridiculous we went down a goal at half time. We were dominant in the first half, had a couple of chances, didn’t covert. … It’s a couple of plays that made a difference. We should have scored goals tonight.
“Somebody told me that Toronto had two shots tonight. I don’t think our goalkeeper made a save tonight.”
But teams are now beginning to focus on the weak link in the Galaxy back four — rookie Tommy Meyer — as Toronto Coach Aron Winter conceded last night. And the Galaxy don’t want to put themselves in the position of attempting to outscore their opponents to compensate, despite the undoubted firepower of their front six. That’s a dangerous strategy as Ruud Gullit discovered back in 2008.
To be fair, the Galaxy have looked sluggish in virtually every facet of their game so far in 2012, as both players and Arena have readily acknowledged.
“We’re definitely lacking a bit of bite right now as a team,” said veteran midfielder Mike Magee. “We can’t point fingers at forwards for not finishing, at defenders for not kicking the ball away from the goal, in the midfield we’re a bit slow — we’re second to balls — it’s across the board.
“We needed something to be lit under us because we’re second to every ball and we’re second in every game,” he added. “We’re not panicking first of all. We’ll be all right. It’s just that we had high hopes in this competition. Last year I don’t think we had two many let downs all year. We’ve played three games and all of a sudden we’re without a win. We’re left scratching our heads.”
David Beckham’s free kicks have gone awry on an unusually large number of occasions, failing to even breach the wall and give attackers an opportunity to put the ball away from a threatening set piece.
Usually consistent performers such as Juninho and Sean Franklin have looked tired or out of sorts.
And Robbie Keane has been uncharacteristically hesitant in front of goal – Wednesday’s performance was possibly the worst of his brief Galaxy career so far – and he was similarly reticent to explain his performance to this reporter and slipped away during the mixed zone Tuesday saying he was in a “bad mood” and didn’t want to talk.
“He’s like a lot of athletes in different sports – he’s lost a little confidence because he’s had some chances these past three games,” Arena said. “You lose your confidence. He’s got to get it back real quick. He’s had his chances. He has to turn it back around.”
And Keane has to meet his shortcomings head on, too, which seemingly wasn’t the case Wednesday.
But the spotlight is certainly shining brightest on the back four and rookie Tommy Meyer, whose mistakes Wednesday night led to both Toronto goals.
“We got blown up in the back,” Arena said. “Certainly didn’t do a good job of marking on the first goal or the second goal. Period. What can you say: there’s a few plays we’ve got to get better defensively (on) in the penalty area.
“(Meyer) got caught on a couple of plays,” Arena added. “He’s an inexperienced player and got burned on a few of them. He’s got to a little bit better, he’s got to learn from it.”
Arena, a coach who has always demonstrated loyalty to his players and managed to bring out qualities in even the most pedestrian of players others don’t see, isn’t ready to give up on Meyer yet.
He conceded it was a “possibility” that a more experienced player – it doesn’t appear that Arena regards former Chivas USA defender Andrew Boyens as anything more than a stopgap reserve – could be brought in.
But it seems far more likely than Arena won’t give up on his draft pick investment yet.
“These games will be our experience,” he said. “We’ve played with a lot of young players the last couple of years and took our lumps doing that. Maybe we have to take our lumps a little more before we get better in those positions.”
But to do that experienced players have to step up and do their part to compensate and that has yet to happen, said playmaker Landon Donovan.
“We always knew losing Omar was going to hurt, but we’ve not done a good enough job of covering up for it,” he said. “We have guys capable of making the plays that we need to make.
“We haven’t had much time in practice the last couple of weeks and it’s pretty clear where the problems are and we need to work on them.”
The Galaxy have three days to get to work before facing D.C. United Sunday at Home Depot Center. A.J. DeLaGarza knows the pair must gel quickly or what is a long season could appear even longer before it has barely started.
“Me and (Meyer) both need to do a better job of marking in the box,” he said. “They had two goals today you can blame on us just not marking. It’s unacceptable. We haven’t played together that much — it’s going to take some time.”
What do you think? Should the Galaxy trade for an experienced central defender? Or should fans continue to put faith in Arena’s excellent judgment so far when it comes to grooming promising young players? Let me know in the comment section below.