This phrase, followed by a shake of the head, seemed to revolve around the LA Galaxy and the Colorado Rapids this weekend. Both teams have failed to heat up yet this season, and the need for more W’s is becoming more and more critical as San Jose, Real Salt Lake, and Seattle start to pull away in the Western Conference of the MLS.
With three games in about a week, Bruce Arena made a tactical decision to field a weakened Galaxy side against Seattle on Wednesday, banking on his super stars to see them through against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.
With Thierry Henry out as well as Wilman Conde and Rafa Marquez, this appeared to be a huge opportunity for the Galaxy, who fielded David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and Edson Buddle. On paper, the line-up looked like it would have an aggressive kick, but this was sorely lacking in the match.
The Galaxy had made a few nice early play, but New York held strong and struck early in the 19th minute with Joel Lindpere’s beautiful goal just over the shoulder of Bill Gaudette. It seemed that LA simply couldn’t get the right touch in the final third. Their level of play was average, which is not something you expect in a side with Beckham, Donovan, and Keane.
Their offensive line up should have found a way through the Red Bulls defense, which has been shaky to say the least this year. It seemed that the Galaxy lacked aggression–an issue that they’ve had all season long.
I understand the logic behind Bruce Arena’s decision to field such a weakened side against Seattle in preparation for this game. Whether I agree with it or not is a different story. Certainly, Arena is conscious of his players’ legs, but they do not have the depth to leave Keane and Beckham from the starting line up when they are fit. My big concern from the match against the Red Bulls is that the Galaxy didn’t seem to have that important understanding in the attacking third.
This communication only comes from playing together in competitive matches–not just training. Los Angeles are not in a position right now to field weakened sides. In soccer, you never know what the outcome will be in a game. If it was a foregone conclusion, we wouldn’t play. Arena needs to field the best team he can because you could never predict how players are going to react in certain situations, when they will step up, and what kind of day your opponents may have. Leaving Beckham and Keane out of the Seattle starting line up was a mistake in my opinion.
It’s unfortunate to play so many games so quickly, but this team has to play every match like it’s critical for their season–because at this point, it’s starting to be.
The Colorado Rapids were also in a position today where they needed three points. Trying to turn around their road losing streak, the Rapids looked to be handed a gift of a game after Daniel Hernandez and Blas Perez both received red cards in the first half. Perez was unlucky to see red while Hernandez had it coming. Not only were FC Dallas down two me but the Texas team was also missing Brek Shea.
With 9 men on the field and Dallas missing a critical play maker, this match became a must win for the Rapids. The disconcerting part for fans of Colorado was that they had to work so hard to find a break through.
I give all credit to Brian Mullan this match. He is one of the best passers in the league, and his ability to cut through the hunkered Dallas defense was crucial. His cross in the 61st minute gave Jaime Castrillon the chance to score. Five minutes later, Mullan did the same for Martin Rivero. The Rapids had 23 attempts on goal, 9 of which were on target.
I realize that sometimes losing a man makes it even more difficult for the other team to score. These teams, as we saw with FC Dallas, pull back, focus on defense and containment, and can often cause a lot of problems. When your opponents are down to 9 players, though, containment should be a lot more difficult for them. The Rapids might be a bit concerned that they didn’t do more.
I don’t want to take away from the good play that the Rapids had. I think Mullan was one of the best acquisitions in the franchise, but they just didn’t show the urgency that was needed to convince me that this victory will spur them on to greater road success.
Although it’s still early in the season, the need to make a move is becoming more time-sensitive and unfortunately neither Colorado nor Los Angeles has shown much urgency. If the Rapids hadn’t beaten Dallas, that would have turned on many, many alarm bells. As it stands, this simply wasn’t a particularly telling match. They should have done more just as the Galaxy should have done more.
The season is about a quarter of the way through, and at this point, you have to wonder how high both teams will reach. Arena can’t afford to field weakened teams, and both sides are out of throw away games–as if they should exist at all. Colorado has 10 days off before what will be a very tough match against DC United while LA has a week before playing the Impact, a team the Galaxy have a great chance against.
Both sides have a lot of work to do if they want to see the playoffs. There’s still a decent amount of time to go, but these teams need to start playing with urgency. Their seasons are starting to depend on it.