L.A. Galaxy: effective, yes, but hardly imaginative

At this point of the MLS season, we are faced with the unappetizing thought that the L.A. Galaxy might win the whole thing. An eventuality that is worth pondering, because a Galaxy championship would be accomplished with a team playing remorselessly pragmatic soccer. The Galaxy, truth be told, is not a particularly entertaining outfit.

It came into New Jersey last week to take on the Red Bulls. The Bulls had all three of their DPs on the field -- Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez -- but the Galaxy won the game, 1-0.

It didn’t really deserve the win -- a tied game would have been a more accurate scoreline -- but that is my point. The Galaxy is now a team that can “grind out” a 1-0 win. I don’t particularly like that phrase, but it will have to do.

If a game is close, I’d put money on the Galaxy winning it.

Coach Bruce Arena has his players trained to make one goal stand up. I won’t belabor the point because it is one that is often bandied around by coaches and players: the ability to forget all about playing soccer, but simply to concentrate on the scoreline. No need to apologize for playing ugly -0 quite the opposite, boast about it and point to the three points raked in.

If I sound somewhat disappointed by what I’m writing, that is because I am disappointed. A team with Landon Donovan on it ought to be giving us something better than mere effective soccer.

For a start, MLS needs brighter soccer. It is vitally important that the league consistently puts on the field an entertaining, exciting brand of soccer. One would expect that the Galaxy would be at the forefront of doing just that. The 18-man roster that they brought to the Red Bull had plenty of good attacking players on it -- alongside Donovan were Edson Buddle, Tristan Bowen, Juninho and Michael Stephens plus two lively flank players in Sean Franklin and A.J. DeLaGarza. From the bench, we had Chris Klein, Jovan Kirovski and Mike Magee.

Yet this was still a labored performance. OK, Arena was sick, recovering from a battle with a virus, and was not on the bench. But that had nothing to do with the way the Galaxy played. I have seen enough of the team already this season to know what to expect.

Frankly, it baffles me. With that roster, and with David Beckham hovering in the wings, the Galaxy ought to be -- by far -- the most enterprising, the most watchable, team in the league. They are anything but that. What on earth has got into Arena? Could it be that the Beckham influence, which means the Brit influence, has got to him? Does Arena now imagine that the Galaxy playing like Blackburn Rovers is playing good soccer?

I do wonder -- seriously -- about that dreary Brit influence. A couple of weeks back, the Galaxy went to Puerto Rico, trying to repair an earlier 4-1 loss to the Islanders. It managed a 2-1 win, not enough, and in the process Arena used one of the oldest and crudest of British tactical ploys: he sent the “big man” up front. So center back Omar Gonzalez became a center forward for the last 10 minutes or so of the game, with goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts banging long balls up field for him to get his head on.

Is that really the best that Arena and Donovan and the Galaxy can do? It never got to that stage in the Red Bulls' game because the Galaxy took an early (10th minute) lead on a neat Edson Buddle goal and managed, not without some difficulty, to keep the not overly-impressive Red Bulls at bay for 80 minutes.

In his post-game remarks, Bulls coach Hans Backe admitted that the game did not rate highly as entertainment. (Backe, incidentally, is a real gem among coaches for he gives his answers concisely,  articulately and honestly -- the very opposite of the USA’s Bob Bradley who has trouble giving a straightforward answer to even the simplest of questions).

Backe was hopeful, feeling that the Red Bulls had played well in patches, and that things would improve as Henry and Marquez settle into the team. That may well be so. In which case the Red Bulls could present a formidable challenge to the Galaxy when playoff time arrives.

There are other candidates as MLS Cup winners, of course.  Holders Real Salt Lake, for a start, then FC Dallas. Their records -- their stats, that is -- are not as good as the Galaxy’s. But why do Jeff Cunningham and David Ferreira and Atiba Harris, or Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola, make the game look more vibrant, more enticing, than anything that Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle and Juninho manage to come up with?

A matter of opinion, no doubt. But also, for me, a matter of artistry. Even with the unquestionable talents of Donovan, the Galaxy come up short in that area. Their game is too geometrical, too predictable, too unimaginative. The Galaxy is the league’s top-scoring team with 32 goals, and I have seen most of those goals -- but I’m finding it hard to recall any of them. I checked back on the last 15 goals scored by the Galaxy and found nothing to set my pulse racing, apart, maybe, from Juninho’s 30-yard blast against Seattle -- hardly a team goal.

I mentioned earlier, the possibility of a Brit influence when things got desperate; but the standard playing style seems to owe more to the systematic efficiency of the Dutch. We’re back to “well-organized” -- hence the league-leading defense, with only 13 goals conceded in 20 games. Add in the midfield bullyboys Chris Birchall and/or Dema Kovalenko, and we have an “effective,” league-leading team.

It’s quite likely that many MLS people would like to see the Galaxy -- with a fit Beckham back in the lineup -- win MLS Cup. Which would be fine -- but, please, not the Galaxy playing the way it does now.

10 comments about "L.A. Galaxy: effective, yes, but hardly imaginative".
  1. jose marichal, August 18, 2010 at 12:52 a.m.

    Wow...I couldn't agree more with this. That performance against Puerto Rico in both legs of the CCL exposed the Galaxy for the dour, unimaginative team they are. It's sad to have to root against my hometown team, but I sincerely hope they get nowhere near MLS cup!

  2. Todd Anderson, August 18, 2010 at 9:29 a.m.

    Are you nuts? It wasn't but a few years ago the media was complaing about the over-priced talent at the Galaxy and their inability to win. Now they're winning and you don't like the way their winning. Personally, I am not a huge Galaxy fan, but this is soccer. Mr Gardner should know that over 50% of Premiership games are won at 1-0 or tied 0-0. Soccer is about grinding out wins. By promoting anything else, you are doing a diservice to the Beautiful Game and to every player that is not getting a $500,000 salary.

  3. Ted Westervelt, August 18, 2010 at 9:32 a.m.

    Totally true - but hardly surprising. Arena is simply the best coach in the world at operating within our mediocritized system. He doesn't complain about what he can't have, exploits the narrowest of advantages, puts a premium on experience in this league and in his system. In a world where domestic parity is still prized, despite all the DP hype, Arena knows how to nab three points in our unique chain of soccer outlets. It's not his fault that the soccer he produces is as middling as the system in which it's ensconced.

  4. Carl Walther, August 18, 2010 at 12:31 p.m.

    Once again Paul, you "hit the nail on the head" with your analysis.

  5. Eric Young, August 18, 2010 at 2:29 p.m.

    Paul can be brutally honest. Sometimes I agree, and sometimes I disagree. I am a Galaxy season ticket holder and here is what I believe. At the start of the season, the Galaxy were playing beautifully. They controlled most games, their passing--at times--looked as good as anything in La Liga--and their goals came at the end of several well constructed passes and moves.

    The World Cup created the first slump this team has had all season, and the Galaxy is still trying to regain footing. The result is the current games we are seeing. Having said that, Paul is spot on.

    But I would say--watch out. I really think this team will regain its composure over the next few weeks and get back to the style we saw at the beginning of the season. But--let's hope they don't meet RSL for the final again.

  6. Mike Gaire, August 18, 2010 at 4:09 p.m.

    Here you go again, Paul, with another of these manic Brit Bashing articles! Now the brits are to blame for the Galaxy only winning by 1-0 away from home against The Bulls? You really are the epitomy of those that suffer from the "passion of the converted". A "former" Brit turned "Brit Basher" !! BLOODY PATHETIC!!! TIME FOR YOU TO HANG EM UP OLD SON!!

  7. James Froehlich, August 18, 2010 at 4:29 p.m.

    Definitely agree with Paul on this. For years I have thought that the Galaxy was a boring team to watch -- not ugly, just boring. Competent but certainly not exciting. I have been and am a Chicago Fire fan. Since I live near St. Louis, that probably requires an explanation!! I have felt that in general, the Fire has always TRIED to play skillful, creative soccer. They haven't always been successful (especially under Denis Hamlett) but with their new coach, they are back giving it their best. For me exciting soccer is carrying the ball out of the back, quick, accurate passing through the midfield, followed by speedy attacks by skilled wingers and forwards, culminating in a goal. (The last part has been notably absent from the Fire this year.)

  8. James Froehlich, August 18, 2010 at 4:34 p.m.

    Todd A -- I was almost with you until you you said that "Soccer is about grinding out wins." and then referred to the "Beautiful Game" !! Sorry those two just don't work together.

  9. Paul Mcdonald, August 18, 2010 at 10:29 p.m.

    I am getting a little disgruntled with Paul Gardner's constant riding of the English (Premier League) game. It is much more enjoyable to watch than MLS games (and i was a Revolution season ticket holder for the past 6-7 years until moving a year ago). Part of MLS's problem is that passing is bad in MLS and too frantic, with a very low chance at real ball control for any of the teams.

    I wouldn't mind higher scoring, though. If you want that, the teams that make the playoffs should be ranked by goals scored, not wins. Tie-breakers could be based on fewest goals allowed.

  10. James Madison, August 19, 2010 at 12:08 a.m.

    Paul seems unable to get over hoping/wishing that the New York MLS team, particularly now that it is the Red Bulls, will dominate the league as the Cosmos did the NASL.

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