[MLS CUP 2012: Countdown] Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena says the defending MLS champion's early-season problems
weren't as dramatic as they might have appeared on the outside. The turnaround came, he says, when he was able to get the team to sort through some internal issues. It didn't hurt that the Galaxy,
which hosts the Houston Dynamo in Saturday's MLS Cup final, got Robbie Keane back from the Irish national team ...
The Galaxy was 3-8-2 in late May after falling to the Dynamo, 2-1, in Houston but went 13-4-4 after that.
"Just like with any team there are things inside the team that you have to correct," Arena said. "Whether its chemistry, players understanding their roles, a coach doing a better job with leadership and trying to really get at some of the issues. Things like that we keep inside our team. But they are issues that are inside every team. All teams go through good stretches and bad stretches. Our bad stretch lasted a little longer than we would have liked but in 2011 we had similar types of issues. You just have to get together as a team and sort through those issues and help steer everyone in the right direction. That’s essentially what we did in general terms."
Keane has arguably been the best player in MLS since his return from Euro 2012.
"There is a noticeable change in that he has obviously scored a lot of goals since his return," Arena said. "I think we see this all the time with players that are involved with national teams. When there are significant competitions, their focus is sometimes on those championships with the national team. Maybe they hold back a little bit so they don’t pick up an injury. I think when Robbie came back in late June, he was 100 percent committed to the Galaxy. He’s played as well as any player in the league since late June."
After the Houston loss, the Galaxy ran off three straight wins against Portland, Real Salt and Vancouver, then blew a 3-1 lead and fell to San Jose, 4-3, June 30 before more than 50,000 fans at Stanford Stadium. Four days later, the Galaxy lost again, 2-1, at Philadelphia. Still, Arena said this was when the season turned around.
"It was right along that period of time where we had that game against Salt Lake, beat Vancouver at home and then lost to San Jose on the road," he said. "But I thought we played well, I was OK with that. Right before the game in Philadelphia, we were at the midway point. We set our goals and we knew what we had to do in the next 17 games and that was get 30 points. We ended up getting 34 but we went out and lost against Philadelphia. Maybe on a day when we were a little bit sharper, we win by three or four goals, to be honest. Then we went on a good run beating Chicago on the road, Portland on the road and then pulled out a draw against Vancouver in the last minute."
Arena, who has also coached D.C. United and New York in MLS, said the 2012 season has been no more difficult than others.
"If you’re in coaching long enough or if you’ve been playing long enough you understand that these issues are all part of the process," he said. "One isn’t any easier than the other. That’s why our profession is so unique and challenging. People from the outside don’t understand it. It’s equally challenging every year whether you’re having an outstanding season or a poor season. Coaching at these levels is simply challenging. It’s an everyday process and you can’t step away from it and you have to stay focused at all times. So I can’t say that this year has been more difficult than some others but it’s certainly been challenging."