MLS Closeup: Injuries, callups impair makeover of L.A.

Eighteen league games into the post-Bruce Arenaera, the Galaxy is feeling the pain of change in more ways than one.

There’s been literal pain of injuries; in the case of Robbie Rogers serious enough to sideline him for the entire season, and longer-term recoveries for Sebastian Lletget, Jermaine Jones, and Baggio Husidic. Recent returnees to the lineup include keeper Brian Rowe, and backup Clement Diop has suffered through some rough outings. Defender Daniel Steres is nearly ready. One of the league’s top offseason signings, Romain Alessandrini, has been playing through minor injuries.

A busy summer of Hexagonal matches and international tournaments has taken their toll as well. Giovani dos Santos has come back from duty with Mexico for the Confederations Cup; Gyasi Zardes is with the U.S. yet could be released after the Gold Cup first round concludes Saturday. Or Arena might choose to keep him for the knockout rounds, which would conclude for them July 26 if the Americans reach the final.

Head coach Curt Onalfo formerly coached Kansas City and D.C. United and took over for Arena following several years with the Galaxy II USL operation. But nothing in his coaching background prepared him for situations such as the Clasico, where only three regular starters – Jelle Van Damme, Joao Pedro and Emmanuel Boateng – lined up for the opening kickoff. So far this season a dozen first-team players have missed a combined total of more than 80 games.

Hugo Arellano, Nathan Smith, Rafael Garcia, Jack McBean, Ariel Lassiter, Bradford Jamieson IV, Jose Villarreal and Jaime Villarreal have been playing significant minutes and the strain is starting to catch up. After riding through eight games unbeaten, the Galaxy has lost three straight league matches and been eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup.

In the past two weeks the Galaxy has fielded depleted lineups and suffered three painful defeats. Road losses to San Jose in the Cali Clasico (2-1) and U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal (3-2) were sandwiched around a 6-2 thrashing by Real Salt Lake at StubHub Center on the Fourth of July.

The change from Arena to Onalfo marked a shift in the team’s philosophy.

“Younger guys are getting minutes possibly before we want them to, but some of the guys are stepping up and doing well,” said team president Chris Klein after San Jose scored a stunning last-second goal to win the Clasico in front of more than 50,000 fans at Stanford Stadium July 1.

Van Damme volleyed a corner kick for a 1-0 Galaxy lead that lasted until the 75th minute when Chris Wondolowski controlled a long kick from keeper David Bingham, shook off a challenge from Jose Villarreal, and drilled the tying goal. “We just let this one get away from us,” said Villarreal. “We just have to get ready for the second half of the season and make a big push.”

After Shea Salinas blasted home the winner in stoppage time, Van Damme was red-carded for re-engaging referee Allen Chapman for a failing to spot clear handball by Victor Bernardez as they dueled for a corner kick prior to Wondolowski’s goal.

“It’s a 100 percent clear handball from Bernardez when I headed the ball back inside,” said Van Damme. “[Chapman] didn’t so sh--, he didn’t do nothing. That was the third handball he didn’t do nothing, so after the game I just lost my sh--. I know I shouldn’t have done it but it’s pretty hard when you work your ass off for 90 minutes and you play 12 against 11.”

Said Klein, “San Jose played a very good second half and we were under it,” said Klein. “Saying that, we’re up 1-0 and it’s a clear handball for a penalty and I don’t know how you miss it.”

Three days later at StubHub Center, RSL blew open a 1-1 game by scoring five consecutive goals after Ashley Cole equalized with his first MLS goal in nearly a year. Jamieson tallied his first MLS goal in more than two years in the 87th minute but that didn’t do much to lift the spirits of a young team taking its lumps during a rough stretch of schedule.

“It’s unacceptable,” said Onalfo. “It’s disappointing, not just to the sold out crowd that showed up tonight. I’m very disappointed. There’s no doubt about it we’re a tired group. This is our seventh game in less than three weeks. We’re without a lot of our veteran players so we’re relying on a younger group, and we have a lot of injuries but these younger guys have shown that they can do it before so we can’t make excuses.”

Onalfo fielded a relatively stronger team for the Open Cup match on Monday, and Van Damme scored again from a Dos Santos corner kick. But the Quakes quickly took command and outshot the Galaxy, 20-8, to win going away with two goals by Wondolowski and a third by one of the newcomers, Danny Hoesen. Homegrown product Tommy Thompson, who played 63 league games during four seasons before scoring his first league goal against Atlanta United on July 4, assisted on both Wondo strikes.

The Galaxy will need to rely on its young players for another month at least while Lletget and Hasidic and Jones get back into the mix.

“They’re all important, they all have to step up,” said Klein. “We believe in our players. We’d like to have a full roster of guys to be able to choose from and get the younger guys minutes on a selective basis but they’ve been thrown into the fire and they’ve done well.”

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