CARSON, Calif. -- Could changes be in store for the LA Galaxy after Tuesday's horrid first-half performance in Mexico?
A player hinted at lineup alterations as LA transitioned from the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final defeat to Club Tijuana toward Saturday afternoon's rematch with Real Salt Lake, the team that beat them in the Major League Soccer opener two weeks ago.
Several players, particularly defenders James Riley and Leonardo, fared poorly in Tuesday's game, in which Tijuana scored in the first, ninth and 26th minutes en route to a 4-2 triumph than erased the Galaxy's 1-0 first-leg advantage. LA played much better in the second half and at game's end needed just one goal to advance to the semi-finals.
That game, more so than the home loss to RSL, is on the Galaxy's minds as they return to league action after taking last week off, but the remnants of the March 8 opener remain present. LA dominated the game, outshot RSL, 27-9, and created more than a dozen scoring opportunities, but Nick Rimando's stunning showing in the nets and Joao Plata's finish when he was left alone in the box gave the visitors a 1-0 triumph.
A little unfinished business, perhaps?
“Yeah, without a doubt,” said left back Todd Dunivant. “They obviously knocked us out [in the Western Conference semifinals] last year, and [in the opener] they kind of stole the game at the end, and it's on us to concentrate the whole time.
“And there were some bad calls that went our way, too, so you can't really say it's a bad result, in a way. They probably did enough to win that game. [This is] a big one for us.”
Tuesday's first-half performance is much fresher, so it resonates more loudly.
“We're frustrated,” said forward Rob Friend, whose entrance at halftime enabled the Galaxy to play more directly, sparking a fine second-half showing. “We're obviously a little bit annoyed with that performance, and it's great we get to rebound so quickly. ... As a soccer player, you just want to play right away after a performance like that, and we're lucky enough to get a game on Saturday. We know it's not going to be an easy game, but if we go in with the right mentality, which we should after a performance and a loss like [that against Tijuana], I think we're all confident of getting a good result.”
They're looking for a performance more in line with that from their first RSL meeting.
“We just want to play well,” Landon Donovan said. “What's more fresh in our mind is [the loss to Tijuana], and the way we started that game as not indicative of the team we are. We're very talented, we know that -- we have a number of guys that can make plays on both sides of the field -- but if we'd don't compete, we can get beat, especially against good teams.
“Tijuana's a very good team. Salt Lake's a very good team. Maybe against some other teams during the year you don't play your best and you can still get by, or you don't play as hard and you can still get by. Not in these games. If we don't compete Saturday, we're not going to win the game.”
So, who is going to be competing for the Galaxy? Head coach Bruce Arena, who has used an identical lineup in all three competitive games this year, has plenty of options after signing veteran depth all over the field during the offseason. He doesn't discuss such things. A.J. DeLaGarza, however, hinted at changes.
“I'm not sure what's going to happen just yet. Sure you'll find out pretty soon, on Saturday,” the right back said. “I mean, a couple of us know what's going on, so get everyone on the same page defense- and attack-wise.”
Dunivant, who made his season debut in the second half against Tijuana after missing the end of preseason with a hamstring strain, appears certain to reclaim his spot from Riley. Friend made a strong argument for a start up top, but tactics could favor Brazilian Samuel as Robbie Keane's partner, or Arena could opt for Landon Donovan or Gyasi Zardes and give Swedish midfielder Stefan Ishizaki his first start.
Leonardo could fall out at center back, but Kofi Opare, his primary competition for the job next to Omar Gonzalez, has been dealing with an abductor injury. Options remain: Dan Gargan could go to right back, with DeLaGarza in the center.
Donovan says what's most important is to have the correct mentality.
“We watched tape from the Tijuana game, and we realized where we let ourselves down,” he said. “It's not necessarily that we didn't have the quality they have, they just wanted it more. And so Salt Lake, it's their opener, they're going to be excited, they've been resting all week and preparing for us, so we have to expect it's going to be the same way [with RSL's desire].
“If our mentality is better from the
start, we're very capable of getting a result there. I think the guys
are actually fired up, disappointed from Tuesday, and we want to go
out in a really good performance in Salt Lake.”
Photo credit: Andrew Fielding/USA Today