So it finally happened. After weeks of riding our luck, taking our chances and stubbornly keeping teams at bay, we finally lost.
In the Galaxy’s defence, it was an away trip to New York Citeh FC, Bitters USA, Man City Lite or however else you prefer to reference City Football Group’s American brand extension (did I mention that I support Manchester United?) and the unbeaten streak was ended by a goal from an offside David Villa.
Not that I let myself get too incensed by refereeing decisions. We benefit from our share.
The second of our two road trip games, found us in Chicago, playing as you might expect, the Chicago Fire.
What is it with US teams naming themselves after historic disasters by the way? I’m all for buying into the cultural norm and am happy to embrace a Los Angeles Galaxy, a Miami Dolphin or a Mountain View Guinea Pig. However, while I’m not militantly opposed to the use of disastrous monikers (the San Jose Earthquakes is another), it just strikes me as a bit tactless. Imagine a “Pompeii Eruption” or a “Lowestoft Bland” for example.
But I digress. It turned out to be quite an entertaining game, which is a bit of a novelty at Toyota Park these days. Gyasi Zardes took an early lead before Chicago stormed back, going ahead after Jelle “the Whole F’n Show” Van Damme conceded a clumsy penalty.
After a bit of back n’ forth, Giovani Dos Santos prodded home deep in the second half for a 2-2 road draw. Just a single point out of six on this particular trip but considering some of the Galaxy’s away form over the last eighteen months, I’ll take it.
Then this weekend, the Galaxy returned home to the Stubby to host a struggling Vancouver Whitecaps side. Interestingly, Vancouver created some serious chances in the first half, most notably with Erik Hurtado, the goal at his mercy, managing to head the ball in such a way that it ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar and bounced out for a goal kick. Impressive.
Midway through the first half, Steven Gerrard made way for Zardes due to a hamstring injury and much to my shock, the midfield immediately looked cohesive and it was mainly one-way from then on.
The Galaxy dominated possession, more-or-less formed a cue (or queue) to take potshots at the goal but alas could not make the opportunities count.
Ties are an odd thing. In this case, it was a clear disappointment. Yet they also combine with our recent exploits to build a run of just one defeat in eleven games as well as just one victory in four. Actually that rather middling analysis just about sums the Galaxy up at the moment. We’ve been scrappy but relatively efficient this season. Rarely amazing and just as rarely awful.
However, things are looking decidedly down as of today.
Zardes also left the field toward the end of this weekend’s game with a broken foot. His season appears to be over. This is a blow because his smart positioning and work off the ball, have been a catalyst this season for some of our best attacking displays. While he certainly doesn’t possess the natural ability of Gio Dos Santos or Sebastian Lletget, he’s been far more consistent than either.
Then, just to compound the situation, Jelle Van Damme went out with a sprained MCL.
My thoughts on Gerrard’s time with the Galaxy should be clear by now. The technical ability is still there and the types of plays he made in his prime still make the occasional cameo but physically he is a spent force. That’s the death knell for any dynamic midfielder and he’s tended to be more effective when deployed in short bursts rather than starting.
Unfortunately, where Gerrard’s absence is now going to be a problem, is in terms of the number of warm bodies the Galaxy has available.
Nigel De Jong you see, has just signed for Galatasaray. Nigel had just as many ups and downs as the 2016 LA Galaxy in his short MLS career. His play has generally been very good. His discipline however, has let him down. The fact that he racked up two significant suspensions through needless fouls, is probably why the Galaxy were open to the transfer.
It has been reported since De Jong signed for the bargain annual salary 0f $500k for 2016, that there was a clause in the contract that would bump him up to Designated Player status from 2017 onward. He would be taking Gerrard’s imminently vacating DP spot and receiving a multi-million dollar yearly paycheck. This would be activated upon his 23rd LAG appearance.
With eight games remaining and NDJ ever-present when available, it looked like he might sneak in. As good as his actual play has been he felt like something of a liability due to his uglier actions.
Nonetheless, we’ll certainly miss the good side of his play as well as simply having a strong option in that role.
We have serviceable journeymen, Baggio Husidic and Jeff Larentowicz on hand but the thought of that partnership gives me butterflies. The wrong kind of butterflies. Not “it’s Christmas Eve” butterflies. We’re talking “you’re ten years old and the football just went through the kitchen window” butterflies.
Gerrard’s attacking midfield role could be filled by Mike Magee, Lletget, Gio or Jose Villarreal but I don’t feel like it’s the natural position for any of them and we’ve struggled to pin down our best attacking set-up all season. I’d also prefer somebody who is better at retaining and distributing the ball if Husidic and Larentowicz are lined up behind him. But beggars can’t be choosers.
As it stands, we’re in with a decent shot of making the playoffs but MLS remains notoriously tight and competitive. Losing a key man or two can sometimes be enough to turn strong form into a protracted losing streak.
LA has just lost four, one of which won’t be back this season and another that’s gone for good.
Here’s hoping that not for the first time in his career, Bruce Arena can prove us all wrong.