Let's be honest. This was a poor showing by the LA Galaxy. The team came into this game knowing that a win would vault them into first place in the Western Conference and back into the Supporter's Shield race.
However, Real Salt Lake was never going to just role over and give LA the points. RSL came out with a purpose, converted their chances to put LA on the back foot, and then managed the game perfectly. In the end, the 3-0 result was a fair score line, and the Galaxy were left scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to get themselves back to their August form.
While there weren't a lot of positives to take away from this match, let's see what we can come up with before we jump into what needs to be improved.
- First half chances: While it's tempting to compare this match to the loss to Orlando earlier this summer, it should be pointed out that LA actually had the better of the run of play in the first forty-five minutes of the match. As a matter of fact, RSL scored only their only two shots of the period, and LA generated eight shots of their own, a number of which were very dangerous chances. Unfortunately, the finishing wasn't there for the Galaxy, and in the second half, the chances dried up, and LA only produced four shots; all in the last ten minutes of the match when the out-come was all but decided. None-the-less, the coaches and players may take comfort in the idea that if just one of those early chances had been converted, it could have been a completely different match.
- Everyone is dropping points: If you think that "positive" was weak, wait until you see this one. Yeah... LA were bad in this match, but luckily all of their major competitors for playoff seeding were bad as well. Vancouver, Dallas, DC, and New England all lost their matches this weekend. If New York Red Bull lose as well, the Galaxy will be able to count themselves lucky to still have a (small) shot at winning the regular season title. All the results went their way, with the exception of the one that they had some control over. So what went wrong? Let's talk about that.
- Designated Players: For starters, LA's designated players didn't show up today. Steven Gerrard looked slow and his touch was off. On multiple occasions he missed players, or sent them balls that were off just enough to prevent them from getting any rhythm. For a guy that's supposed to run the attack from deep, he has not looked very sharp for much of his time in LA. Unfortunately, Giovani dos Santos has looked even worse. He just cannot seem to get on the same page with his teammates. While he was tidier on the ball than Gerrard in this match, he did little to contribute to the attack. Robbie Keane also had a match to forget. It's not unusual for him to get fewer touches than his fellow attackers, but he usually makes the most of those touches. In this instance, he just wasn't quite sharp enough. He couldn't get off his shots quickly enough, and missed his teammates in key situations. I'd guess that right now he's really missing the chemistry that he had with Landon Donovan.
- Lletget hits the wall: Unfortunately it wasn't just the high-paid guys who looked off in this match. LA's less-well compensated signing, Sebastian Lletget, seems to have hit a bit of a wall with his play. In the last three matches, he has been fairly ineffective getting forward. It looks to me like teams have learned that they cannot allow him to get the ball at his feet. Lletget tends to wait for passes to come to him instead of going to the ball, and RSL was doing a great job of beating him to the ball over-and-over again (as was Montreal last week). We'll see if the young attacker is able to adjust to this and regain his form from earlier in the season.
- Lack of sharpness: I mentioned this above, but it bears emphasizing on its own. LA has not been sharp in the attacking third and the defensive third of the field. They are getting beaten to the ball. Their passes are off just enough to prevent dangerous finishes. Their team defending is just a little slow. They aren't making those decisive runs to get open for their teammates. On the whole, they just look a little off. This is where Bruce Arena needs to step up and earn his salary. He's got to find a way to get these guys on the same page, and have them focused and sharp.
- Low energy: Another aspect of this lack of sharpness is a lack of energy. The team really hasn't looked great since before they bye week. In the second half of this match they just seemed to fade. Yeah... they were playing in a tough away venue at altitude, but great teams work through that and find the energy to do what needs to be done. When they came out in the second half, it was almost like they didn't believe they could come back, which is a marked change from the way the team has played for most of the season.
- Giving away goals: Of course the worst part of this performance was the team giving away goals. In some ways, they were unlucky to go down so quickly, and even more unlucky to give away the penalty. However, this was the worst defensive performance of the season with Omar Gonzalez on the field, and the stalwart defender played a key part in giving up the first goal. He failed to track the run of Devon Sandoval when the ball was recycled in to the attacking third following a corner kick. However, the USMNT defender wasn't the only one to blame in the loss. Juninho gave up the penalty, Robbie Rogers seemed vulnerable all game long to Jordan Allen's runs down the right, and Leonardo reverted to his past form and tried to gift RSL a goal or two with bone-headed turn-overs. As Arena mentioned in his post-game comments, the defending teh the second half had a lot to do with LA chasing the game, but that doesn't excuse to score line. Overall, it was a night to forget for the LA defense.