The LA Galaxy did what MLS teams have consistently done in the CONCACAF Champions League: they crashed out on the away leg to a Liga MX squad. In a game where they were out-possessed %63-%37, outshout 18-11, and outscored 4-0, there aren't a ton of positives to highlight. However, I'll do my best to pull out a few, and to not go too hard on this squad of players who are still in pre-season form, and just getting to know one another.
- Depth: I know I talked about this after last week's 0-0 draw, but perhaps the most exciting thing about this squad is the players that Bruce Arena can bring off the bench. Even with starting left back Ashley Cole away for the birth of his child, central defender Leonardo missing for unspecified reasons, and striker Alan Gordon out with a neck injury, LA had a deep bench. They were able to bring in Daniel Steres at center back, and Sebastian Lletget and Mike Magee in the attack. Steres certainly looked competent defensively, and had a tremendous strike on goal late in the match. Lletget did the things that made him successful last season, putting pressure on the Santos defense and getting one key pass and a shot. Magee showed his quality and intelligence, getting two key passes and combining well with his teammates to create late pressure. Finally, A.J. DeLaGarza (in for Leonardo) and Dave Romney (starting for Cole) put in solid, if unspectacular shifts at center and left back, respectively. In fact, A.J., while beaten to the ball on the first goal, was very disciplined, while Romney and Gyasi Zardes did a decent job defending on the left side of the field (while the right looked vulnerable). The bottom line is that the depth of this squad will provide competition for starting positions that we have rarely seen in MLS, and that should be a good thing.
- Free to focus on other competitions: Another thing that having decent depth should provide the Galaxy in 2016 is the ability to field strong teams in multiple competitions. While it would have been nice for LA to push deeper in CCL, this early elimination, coupled with the fact that they will not be participating in next years' CCL, frees the team up to focus on the MLS regular season and US Open Cup. Of course, that assumes that they can play better than they did in this match.
- Quick turn-around: I know this is little weak... but one nice thing about this loss is that the team doesn't have much time to dwell on it, and we, as fans, will have the MLS regular-season opener to distract us this coming Sunday. LA will be kicking off at home against a DC United squad that was also eliminated from the CCL this evening. We should find out in short-order if this performance is an aberration, or a harbinger of things to come.
- Lack of sharpness in both boxes: In 2011 when Arena coached a young LA squad to both the Supporters' Shield and the MLS Cup, he talked about how LA's strength was their "sharpness in both boxes," meaning that the team made the little defensive plays to prevent their opponents from scoring while being ruthless in finishing their own chances. The performance that we saw in this match was the exact opposite of that. While Santos Laguna was definitely the better team, and thoroughly deserved to win, based on the stats, and the play outside of the penalty areas, it should have been a much closer match. A 2-1 scoreline would have been representative of that. To be clear, I'm not taking anything away from Santos, or making excuses for LA. The Galaxy players seem to have a problem with their final product. They make mental errors on defense. They are not clinical in either their final passes in the attack or their finishing (although the Santos goalkeeper was stellar). In order to have a successful season. These problems need to be fixed. I'll talk a little more about that below.
- Lack of discipline: After last weeks' match, I touted the performance of the LA defense, but mentioned the lack of communication to be a problem. We saw that in spades in this match. Of particular note was the play of Jelle Van Damme. JVD looks like an impressive physical presence in central defense, but his lack of discipline killed the team. He was part of all four goals conceded. He was regularly out of position. He was on the edge of being out of control for most of the night, stabbing at balls in order to deflect them into dangerous positions, and making poor decisions and/or touches on his passes out of the back. However, he wasn't the only one showcasing his poor decision-making. Emmanuel Boateng also proved to be a lot of flash with very little product. He's quick, but once again, he failed to create real chances by making poor decisions. Robbie Rogers was also suspect in his discipline. He seemed to be playing scared, giving Santos attackers too much space to run at him. This, of course, could be a product of the fact that these players really don't know and/or trust one-another yet. However, if this glaring problem is not addressed, it's going to be a long, painful season.
- Designated Players: Once again, LA's three designated players failed to deliver on their promise. None of them were horrible, but all of them were mediocre. Giovani dos Santos had a dangerous header that was smartly saved by the Santos 'keeper, and generated a couple other shots and a key pass. Robbie Keane looked frustrated on the night, and was out of sync with his teammates, producing only three speculative shots from outside the penalty area. Perhaps most disappointing was the performance of Steven Gerrard. While the former Liverpool captain did do a nice job cycling the ball around, he produced only one key pass, and had a number of dangerous give-aways in the midfield. He also lacked precision on his final pass in the attack, often giving away possession by trying to force a pass into the penalty box when it might have been smarter to be a little more patient. Once again, all three of these guys need to step up their game in order to make this team successful. Either that, or they will need to lose some playing time (if Arena has the political will to sit them on the bench).
- Lack of heart: Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this match was that the Galaxy looked to be beaten after the first Santos goal in the 19th minute. You could see the life drain out of the squad, and while there were moments of liveliness at various points in the match, the players never really looked like they believed they would get a goal. I realize that the history with Liga MX squads can lead to this, but we have players on this team that should be able to lead by example and prevent this sort of thing from happening. Once again, Gerrard, who came from 3-0 down at half time to with the Champions' League in Europe just did not seem ready to step up and push his teammates. Quite honestly, at this point, this squad feels like a collection of mercenaries, none of whom are really committed to the cause. Getting these individuals to come together as a team may be the toughest coaching challenge that Bruce Arena has ever faced.