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L.A. teams rebound; D.C. doesn't
by Ridge Mahoney, May 19th, 2008 11:30AM

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This isn't yet another diatribe in what is fast becoming a weekly recurrence: to dump on D.C. United.

But in yet two more ways D.C. deflated its fans and embarrassed its crest yet again last Saturday by squandering a 1-0 lead and losing, 3-1, to Chivas USA at Home Depot Center. Unlike Chivas USA and its landlord, the Los Angeles Galaxy, United didn't unite in response to adversity, and rather than clenching a nugget of good fortune, instead let it slip back into the sluice.

That's three losses in a row, and five defeats in the last six games, for last year's winner of the Supporters' Shield. Yet still the message isn't getting through. D.C. (2-6-0) plays Toronto on the road and at home this week before it visits New England May 29 for its next ESPN2 appearance. Even if it gets four points out of the TFC games, it will still be in last place.

A week ago, if you recall, both Chivas USA and Los Angeles succumbed at home to Eastern Conference opposition. And succumbed is a proper word; though capitulation might be better. New England outplayed and outsmarted Chivas USA, and New York stunned Los Angeles with a winning goal less than a minute after the Galaxy had equalized.

The HDC teams have yet to prove they can join the top Eastern teams and Houston as serious MLS Cup contenders. Combined, they have won just five and lost seven of 16 games, and each has conceded 16 goals. But last weekend they rebounded from clunkers to win going away.

Yes, Red Bull coach Juan Carlos Osorio devised an effective tactical scheme May 11 that for much of the game neutralized Landon Donovan and David Beckham, but while Coach Ruud Gullit publicly acknowledged that both of this stars could have done more, he privately castigated the rest of the squad for not doing nearly enough. After Alan Gordon tied the game, at least eight other field players, including the entire back four, took a snooze and let Juan Pablo Angel win it for NYRB.

Once Olympic and national-team commitments start piling up, Donovan will be gone intermittently. Other players could be summoned as well, pending their MLS performances. Beckham is still in the England mix. Missing important players is about to become a regular occurrence.

After that home loss to the Red Bulls, LA went into a road rage. It fended off a few Dallas attacks in the first 25 minutes, then Chris Klein broke open the game with a well-taken goal on a swift counterattack, expertly launched by rookie midfielder Brandon MacDonald.

You read that right: a piercing through ball came off a foot with about seven weeks of MLS regular-season competition. And rather than sit on that rare, precious commodity, a lead away from home, LA rained punch after punch upon its reeling opponent, and strutted into the locker room up, 4-0.

At the final whistle, Edson Buddle had logged a hat trick in a 5-1 rout. The much-maligned Galaxy (3-3-2) is in second place.

After losing, 2-0, at home to Chicago on ESPN2 May 8, United had more than a week to brood. Coach Tom Soehn benched sputtering forward Luciano Emilio and changed the back line again to a four-man system.

D.C. also went up, 1-0, on the road. In the 30th minute, Marcelo Gallardo deftly dodged around Jesse Marsch at the edge of the penalty arc to nail a left-footed masterpiece into the top corner.

Surely the four-time league champion could manage to get something out of this game, with Chivas USA missing nine players - including six defenders - due to injury. Eventually, Coach Preki would field six players in either their first or second MLS seasons. Chivas USA had been outscored, 13-6, while failing to win any of its previous five games so it had to be ripe for plucking. Right?

Nothing doing. In first-half stoppage time, Jaime Moreno first-timed a good opportunity over the crossbar. In the second half, everything changed.

Chivas USA smothered United, and scored twice three minutes apart when Atiba Harris simply outmuscled an opponent. Zach Wells should have collected the ball from Harris before Marsch knocked it into the net, but Harris set up the chance by barreling past Domenic Mediate. He overpowered Gonzalo Martinez leading up to the second goal but if Martinez just hangs tough Harris doesn't run clear to set up Sacha Kljestan, who'd been shackled the week before by Khano Smith, for the winner.

Another run by Harris - who might have been offside when Kljestan passed to him -- set up teenager Jorge Flores, winner of last year's Sueno MLS competition, for a storybook goal.

After falling behind D.C., Chivas USA tightened and toughened its midfield.

In the Revs' win May 11, Jeff Larentowicz and Steve Ralston had chipped balls over the Chivas USA back line to set up goals for Kenny Mansally and Taylor Twellman. Criticism fell on central defender Jim Curtin for being beaten on both plays, but if a team that plays with two holding central midfielders - Marsch or Daniel Paladini and Paulo Nagamura - can't limit that service, opponents are going to score.

To a man, Chivas USA and L.A. responded. The United youngsters faltered, the vets didn't do enough, and so the song remains the same.

 



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