The Galaxy's Dark Side

By Paul Gardner

Last night I tuned in to watch Landon Donovan, but what I got was something rather different. The game was the Galaxy at home to the Chicago Fire and within five minutes the Fire was leading, 2-0.

Considering that the Galaxy was unbeaten in the Home Depot this season, this was sensational stuff.

At that point, I’d seen nothing of Donovan -- in fact, virtually nothing of the Galaxy. Nothing good, that is. But I’d seen plenty of the other Donovan. Donovan Ricketts is widely over-praised (as is the case with all goalkeepers these days) and hailed as the best goalkeeper in MLS, this largely on the basis of his statistics -- 48 saves, nine shutouts, that sort of stuff. These stats, of course, mean nothing at all. If statistics are, as is sometimes maintained, a sophisticated form of lying, then goalkeeper stats are the biggest whoppers of the lot.

Yet here was Ricketts, banally beaten on the Fire’s first goal by Marco Pappa, then horrendously at fault as Collins John scored the Fire’s second. On the third, he succeeded in batting away Pappa’s shot, but parried it straight at Michael Banner, who slammed the rebound into the net.

A pretty forgettable night for Ricketts, though of course he will no doubt escape criticism. Certainly, neither of the Fox Soccer Channel commentators, Brian Dunseth and Christopher Sullivan, took him to task. Not a word.

So it goes, with this extraordinary willingness to ignore goalkeepers’ errors and heap praise on straightforward achievements. I’ll confess to being greatly irritated a day earlier when, at the end of the telecast of the Colorado vs. Dallas game, the MVP award was given to Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman -- for making three saves. Three saves -- only one of which was at all difficult.

Back to the Galaxy. I was still looking for Donovan, but this was not his day. He entered much more into the play as the game went on, but without ever getting into scoring position, or making anything approaching a deadly pass. His two goals came from penalty kicks, both of which seemed to me correctly awarded by referee Silviu Petrescu.

It was Petrescu who gave the Galaxy a lifeline when he inexplicably failed to eject Dema Kovalenko in the 65th minute.

One of the inexplicable things about Bruce Arena is his insistence on accommodating a roughhouse midfielder on the Galaxy. Last night we had nearly an hour of Chris Birchall, not pleasant to watch and of doubtful value to his team. In the 54th minute he received the yellow card that had been coming to him for quite a while. He was immediately substituted, but any thought of a more skilled, less rustic replacement was immediately squelched as Dema Kovalenko made his muscle-bound way on to the field.

It didn’t take long -- just 10 minutes -- for Kovalenko to make his mark, and as usual it was deplorable. An awful foul on Krzysztof Krol ... a late, violent, studs-up tackle making contact with Krol’s shin just below knee level. A challenge like that, where the player jumps in with both feet off the ground, is a guaranteed red card anywhere. Except when Silviu Petrescu is the referee.

For Petrescu this appalling assault was worth only a yellow. Nor did it seem to be of much consequence to the FSC guys, with Dunseth remarking in a smirking, jokey sort of way, that Kovalenko “was never a player to shy away from a challenge.”

Kovalenko, of course, saw nothing wrong with what he had done, and argued with Petrescu, no doubt protesting his innocence. But we have seen this dangerous recklessness before, repeatedly, from Kovalenko. In 1999 he broke the leg, and finished the career, of Brandon Pollard. In 2004 he broke Ronnie O’Brien’s leg. Later that year, before the MLS Cup, I asked him whether he would be changing his style of play as a result of the damage he had inflicted. His reply was defiant: “No, it won’t make any difference. I’m not changing the way I play.”

Petrescu’s pusillanimous response to such thuggery is unacceptable. He should look again at the definition of “serious foul play,” which calls for an automatic red card: “A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play.” This was a serious failure of responsibility that really ought to get Petrescu suspended for a game or two.

A greatly puzzling, and worrying, thing is Arena’s position. He knows Kovalenko’s track record better than anyone. He must know that Kovalenko is not now as quick as he used to be. His attempts at tackling are more likely than ever to be late, so that the chance of Kovalenko inflicting another serious injury are increasing.

Last night, Krol had a narrow escape from becoming the next victim. It does not make matters any more encouraging to know that Arena appears to be grooming Birchall as Kovalenko’s successor as his team’s Designated Pit Bull.

11 comments about "The Galaxy's Dark Side".
  1. George Gorecki, August 2, 2010 at 8:37 a.m.

    I think that Ricketts only had significant responsibility on the Collins John goal, where John got the ball between Ricketts and his near post. Hard to fault the GK very much when the defense leaves him high and dry. On Pappa's and Banner's goals, the real question is, why were they left unmarked?

  2. Austin Gomez, August 2, 2010 at 9 a.m.

    Pure and Simple: RC for this 'pit-bull' Kovalenko --- classic evidence of SFP
    via his Cleats/Studs UP, No Opportunity to play the Ball, from a Distance, sliding into the Victim's Soft Area of the Shin at an aggressively fast-paced
    Speed (all the classical Qualities of a Player who wants to INTIMIDATE & INJURE
    an Opponent......why? "A Beautiful Game"
    turned viciously, violently, truly flagrant & blatant.........for whatever
    Reasons! ! !

    End of Scene/Story!

  3. Philippe Fontanelli, August 2, 2010 at 9:28 a.m.

    Well said Paul. Finally someone saw the same game as I saw. Just a minute ago I left very similar comments about the game. For example Kovalenko should have been banned from the game long time ago, he is despicable. Donovan seems un motivated not only at this game but the last couple of games and Buddle seem to miss the opportunities given. And Bruce Arena is hibernating. I have stated tht he has surrounded himself with has been washed out players, that have been released by other clubs or the ones no other team wants them; Berthalter, Dunivant, Burchall, Kirovski, Kovalenko, Lewis, Klein, Magee and probably couple others names that I forgot. This is not a championship team. Watch out for New York, Chicago and other teams that have been improving drastically. BTW I have never understood what was all the hype about Ricketts.

  4. Brian Something, August 2, 2010 at 10:11 a.m.

    I agree with George: I thought he was only really at fault with one of the goals. His defense didn't show up until 20 minutes into the game. Personally, I don't hear all the hype about Ricketts that Paul is talking about. If anything, I only hear people calling him crap. I think he's an above average MLS keeper who commands his box well. Not the 2nd coming of Lev Yashin, but decent.

    Ah Dema, the poor man's Mark van Bommell. I too was amazed that neither of FSC's commentators (calling them analysts would be overpraise) mentioned that at least some refs would've given a red card for that challenge. Especially since Dunseth (the worst soccer announcer on US television, despite heavy competition) never shuts up and Sullivan is prone to massive hyperbole. But I learned to expect incompetence when either of these guys are calling a game; them together is nightmare.

  5. Brian Something, August 2, 2010 at 10:16 a.m.

    The leniency showed toward Dema was even more astonishing when you compare it to the red card out of nothing that was shown in the Houston-NY game.

  6. Carl Walther, August 2, 2010 at 10:28 a.m.

    After the thugs started playing their version of soccer, with no reasonable penalty from the so called ref., I just turned the t.v. off. I have no interest in watching such crap. Bruce Arena has proven that he approves of his thugs.

  7. beautiful game, August 2, 2010 at 11:11 a.m.

    Paul makes some sound points...LD's history is that he tends to disappear when he should be leading the for the ref, this season the MLS refs seem to let clear fouls go...most of them can't count out 10-yards incidental to a free kick and encroachments are not punished...anyone care to state which MLS team has a +2 gpga, none, nada...when free kicks should be given outside the box the refs let the play go on and while these same infractions happen in the neutral territory, they whistle the ball for Brian Dunseth and Christopher Sullivan, two winded suffocating commentators who kill the game with overanalysis, chatter and emotional outbursts over nothing special; Sullian must have used the word 'great' a dozen times in each half. What game was he watching on the tube?

  8. Felix Moyano, August 2, 2010 at 2 p.m.

    If Kova does that to someone on the street he gets arrested for assault. It's as simple as that. Refs have to understand that by not giving straight reds for viscious tackles they are indirectly "promoting" violence on the field. Kudos to the Fire for keeping their composure and not seeking retribution.

  9. Alex G. Sicre, August 2, 2010 at 4:46 p.m.

    How nice it is to agree with everyone for a change. Birchall is definitely Demas'understudy. I knew that as soon as Kovalenko got in the game, it was just a matter of minutes before he would slam into someone studs up. Red Card for sure. I'm a Galaxy fan and I shudder evertime DM gets in the game. Bruce, get us a technical, creative midfielder. Stop with the Pitbulls.

  10. craig sofital, August 2, 2010 at 6:17 p.m.

    Maybe we should appeal to FIFA for a couple rules changes....
    1. Invent a penalty for something in between a red and a yellow. Maybe a 10 or 15 minute ice hockey-esque penalty box?
    2. Invent something for a foul in the box that isn't worthy of a PK, but is still worthy of a foul and advantage for the attacking team. maybe a PK from the top of top of the circle?

    These 2 situations give the ref a HUGE impact on the game. Swallow the whistle or only give a yellow, and you reward poor play by the defense. Give too many PK's and/or red cards and you throw off the balance of the game.

    Let's fix it.

  11. Harmon Barnard, August 3, 2010 at 7:40 p.m.

    WE were very lucky that we did not lose one of our better defenders with a broken leg. Krol was very lucky to survive a Kovolenko tackle.

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