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Galaxy is playing its role perfectly (badly)
by Ridge Mahoney, April 14th, 2008 11:30AM

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Well, after a week of routs and upsets, flameouts and comebacks, who's to pick on in MLS? The weak have become stronger, the traditionally strong are stumbling yet far from beaten, and those in the middle are where they are on merit.

Only two teams are winless after three weeks of play and one of them just happens to be the defending champion. Houston got its first shutout in Kansas City, 0-0, after losing, 3-0, and tying, 3-3, in its first two games, but the Dynamo endured some rough spells last year and still went all the way. Too soon to lay waste.

San Jose is also winless and as an expansion team isn't expected to win many anyway, but the Quakes opened up the Fire defense numerous times and simply couldn't score in a spirited 1-0 loss. They may be low on the totem pole, but the drive and determination demanded by head coach Frank Yallop showed in abundance if in a futile effort.

Toronto and Colorado won on the road, and the Rapids are in first place, which should buy Fernando Clavijo more than just a few more weeks of security. Actually, he deserves a lot more. He's injected new life into his team by going with youngsters Stephen Keel, John DiRaimondo, Omar Cummings and Nick Labrocca, among others, which should make veterans Mike Petke and Jovan Kirovski mighty nervous.

Red Bull coach Juan Carlos Osorio may have overplayed his hand by making formation and personnel changes after opening the season with a win at home, and succumbing, 2-0, in Dallas. Or perhaps that first win, over a lackluster Crew, simply flattered to deceive.

In other nations, coaches often adjust their tactics to the opponent and whether they are playing home or away, but a new Red Bull back line conceded a goal after 40 seconds. The attack did generate 14 shots but only two hit the target, yet with a record of 1-1, where else would you expect New York to be with a new coach and yet another management upheaval still rumbling?

D.C. suffered a 4-0 thrashing at Real Salt Lake and can blame it, sort of, on playing a fifth game in 15 days and resting a few regulars rather than running them out onto the Rice-Eccles landing strip. Still, this work-in-progress needs work, not to mention Ben Olsen.
No, there's only one team that can be classified in the "train wreck" category.

All fingers point to Southern California, of course, where the Galaxy (1-2-0) just can't help but reload the cannons of criticism. After thumping the expansion Quakes on national television April 3, Landon Donovan said the Galaxy should be able to build some momentum with three more consecutive home games, starting with Toronto, of which he said, "That's a game we feel we should win."

Uh, not exactly.

Donovan blew three great chances to score before ripping home a long-range shot and then converting a penalty in a 3-2 defeat on Sunday, with defender Greg Vanney culpable on all three goals. The TFC newcomers, Frenchman Laurent Robert and Honduran Amado Guevara, outclassed their LA counterparts.

On the first, Vanney whiffed on a chipped ball that left Danny Dichio all alone to drill a shot past Steve Cronin; on the second goal, Vanney's foul -- for which he was cautioned - resulted in a free kick Cronin batted right to Jarrod Smith, who nodded in the rebound; and on the third Vanney lost a mano-a-mano duel with Jeff Cunningham, who barreled past him to score the winner.
Still, this was a team defeat that showed on each goal, as well as chances squandered by Ely Allen and Edson Buddle.

On the first goal, a lack of pressure in midfield enabled Guevara to deliver the ball Dichio put away. The central midfielders were occupied, but just a few yards from Guevara loped a marginally interested David Beckham.

Robert drove his free kick low through the wall and Cronin did well to save it, yet leaving the rebound on the doorstep could have been forgiven if any of his teammates had been as quick to ball as was Smith. They weren't even close.

For the winning goal, Robert served a ball from well inside his own half for Cunningham to score the winner, yet before and after the Galaxy got good looks. But Allen couldn't get a shot off on time and his effort was snuffed; in stoppage time, Buddle took a ball into the left channel too deep and shot wide of the near post.

In the parity-laden world of MLS, teams will hit peaks and valleys, with the crack of doom chronicling each defeat and trumpets of euphoria greeting each win.

Unless wins come in bunches, the Galaxy saga -- in which pratfalls befall the rich kids -- shall be grist for the mill of mocking disdain.



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