The LA Galaxy lost only their second match this season, giving up a goal in the final seconds, just as they had in their only other loss of the year. This was an error-filled match, but it looked like the Galaxy had secured another road draw when Brian Rowe allowed a shot that was struck right at him from distance to slide through his hands and into the back of the net. It was a frustrating end to an ugly match. Still, there were a few positives to take away from it.
- Quality from Nigel de Jong: On an evening when many players had an off match, de Jong really showed his quality. He was calm and intelligent with the ball, completing 89% of his passes, and controlling the midfield for large stretches. He was careful with his tackles, only giving away a couple of fouls on the night, both of which were in the attacking end of the field. De Jong instills confidence in the players around him. They know that he's not going to try to force the ball to them in a bad situation. They know that he will cover back on defense when needed. While his full contribution doesn't really show up on the stat sheet, he was probably the best player on the field for LA on the night.
- Energy from Giovani Dos Santos: LA's young Mexican star continues to be in good form. The goal he scored was a little lucky, and he did miss a second attempt that could have easily put LA up 2-0, and changed the tenor of the match. However, his movement off the ball, both in the attack and while defending, was very good in this match. He looks confident and engaged. Earlier in the season, he often looked like he was wandering through matches. This has not been the case for some time, and it's exciting to see LA's youngest DP putting out the energy to make an impact on the match.
- Finishing from Mike Magee: The legend of Magee continues to grow. With LA just having given up a goal mid-way through the second half, Magee made something out of nothing. Steven Gerrard sent a hard pass into the box, but was too late on the delivery, and the ball was behind Magee. Mike stuck his right foot out behind him, and somehow managed to settle the ball, spin around, and calmly put his shot into the far corner of the goal, leaving the goalkeeper no chance whatsoever for the save. With his fifth goal of the season (on top of four assists), he has proven to be a great off-season pickup.
- Uneven goalkeeping: Not to put too fine a point on it, but Brian Rowe cost the LA Galaxy a point in this match. To be clear, other players could have stepped up and not put him in this position, but his error on the final Montreal goal was as bad as anything you'll see in MLS this season, and possibly ever. Didier Drogba hit a free kick from a wide angle at a distance of probably 35 yards. The ball was not knuckling. It had a nice, predictable flight path. It was coming in slightly above chest height. In the replay you can almost see Rowe relax, and then lose focus. He failed to get his body behind the ball, and allowed the ball to pass right through his hands, over his shoulder, and into the back of the net. It was the kind of mistake you expect to see from a high school JV goalkeeper. Rowe has done a pretty good job this season, but now both he and Dan Kennedy have had seriously poor moments that have cost LA points. The team cannot expect to go deep in the playoffs unless their goalkeeping improves.
- Poor defending: That said, the team cannot expect to go deep in the playoffs unless their defending improves. In this match, LA displayed some epically poor defending. On the first goal the team gave up, Jelle Van Damme let Dominic Oduro run by him like he wasn't even there. In addition, Ashley Cole was too slow tracking back on the fast break, leaving Ignacio Piatti one-on-one with Rowe. On the second goal, Cole failed to stay tight on Lucas Ontivero, allowing him to turn in the box, and fire a shot into the corner of the goal. We'll come back to this a little below, for now, it's sufficient to say that the team needs to do better.
- Lack of focus: A lot of these defensive errors are simply due to a lack of focus. Players seem to turn off for a second. It happened with Rowe, Cole, and Van Damme, but it also happened on the attacking end of the field. The Galaxy actually looked pretty good in the build-up, but too often the final ball just wasn't sharp enough. Robbie Rogers looked quite good going forward, but often killed attacks with poor touches or decisions in the final third. Players tended to hold the ball too long, often looking like they had no plan when the ball came to them. While results have not been bad, this has been a problem for much of the season, and it needs to be addressed.
- Steven Gerrard: In many ways, it's hard to assess Gerrard's performance with the Galaxy. On the one hand, he makes a lot of nice passes for the team, and does things that help control the pace of the match. He got an assist in this game, and "Who Scored" actually rated him as one of the better LA players on the night. Unfortunately, he also brings a lot of negatives to the table. On the second goal, when he should have slid over and given Cole some help, he seemed to switch off and just watch the play develop for three yards away. In the midfield, he continued the trend of making dangerous passes. He had a number of give-aways in his own half, and on many more occasions gave the ball to his teammates in really difficult positions, leading to more turn-overs. Perhaps most importantly, he doesn't seem to see the bigger picture. With fifteen seconds left in stoppage time, and LA in possession of the ball, he tried to thread a pass through the center of the the Montreal defense, turning it over in perfect position for them to counter-attack. Had Gerrard held the ball, worked it wide, or even lofted it into the box for Alan Gordon, it's likely that the Impact never get that final attack leading to the goal. Gerrard needs to do much better for this team. He needs to use his intelligence and his will to win to help the team be more solid. He's not bad, per se. He's simply a liability, and LA cannot afford to have a 35-year-old liability running their midfield.
This match was a bit of a perfect storm against the Galaxy. All of the weaknesses that have been hovering around the team were exposed, and the individual brilliance of their key players was not able to overcome those weaknesses.
Unfortunately, the cracks in this team are all too real, and other MLS squads should be able to see them, and exploit them. LA should easily make it into the playoffs, but unless they improve their team defending and their focus, they are unlikely to be one of the top teams as the season winds down.