Archive | July, 2012

Galaxy draw with Tottenham,

Posted on 25 July 2012 by iyeo

In a match that featured the likes of Robbie Keane, Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart, and Jermain Defoe, just to name a few, it was a player that not too many speak about that would find his way onto the score sheet.

Bale did his part, opening up the scoring early in the first half of Tottenham Hotspur’s friendly match against the Los Angeles Galaxy, but the Galaxy found its response in an unlikely source, as David Junior Lopes’ equalizer paved the way for an eventual 1-1 draw with the Spurs at the Home Depot Center on Tuesday night.

“They created lots of problems in their possession,” Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas said of the Galaxy’s effort. “They were pretty creative and Marcelo (Sarvas) particularly was very influential in the first half.”

Tottenham got on the board first in the 13th minute as Gylif Sigrudsson sent a ball into the penalty box from the left wing and Gareth Bale’s leaping header beat keeper Brian Perk near post at the upper left corner. The Galaxy found the equalizer in the 29th minute after a corner was cleared out, Marcelo Sarvas sent a ball into the box, Jimenez’s sliding cross into the six was slid home into the back net by David Junior Lopes to tie the game.

“I think the finish was as hard as the play leading to it,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “It was excellent execution.”

The Galaxy immediately looked for the go-ahead goal. Five minutes later, LA again built up its attack and Sean Franklin’s cross in the box was met by Hector Jimenez, but the midfielder’s diving header was parried away by keeper Carlo Cudicini. Robbie Keane had a few chances to stick it to his old club in the 39th minute, as he chased down a long ball into the 18. Keane’s first shot was turned back by Cudicini, but the ball went to Keane, but the striker’s rebound attempt missed the far post. The second half didn’t feature much, as both teams emptied their benches, but Jermain Defoe had a chance to put Tottenham ahead in the 55th minute when he chased down a forward ball and broke for goal. Defoe got inside the 18, but sent his shot wide left, though he didn’t miss by much.

As is the case with most friendlies, Arena used this game to his advantage, starting Omar Gonzalez alongside Junior Lopes, which resulted in AJ DeLaGarza moving over to the right back spot while regular right back Sean Franklin slid over to the right midfield spot. Jose Villareal, who burst onto the scene with his spectacular volley against Vancouver last Wednesday, got the start alongside Keane at forward.

“First half we played well, second half was an excellent opportunity for a lot of our young players,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “Tonight, we had a lot of players get an opportunity to play against a first class team.”

The Galaxy jump back into MLS play on Saturday, as travel to Pizza Hut Park to face FC Dallas.

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Top 3 Performers July25- 22, 2012

Posted on 22 July 2012 by Kyle Alm

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Galaxy win Round 2 of Superclasico

Posted on 22 July 2012 by iyeo

In the midst of a busy stretch that will get even more busier in the coming week, the Los Angeles Galaxy has simply one objective; get points.

Following a shootout win at Portland last Saturday followed by a two-goal rally against Vancouver for a draw on Wednesday, the Galaxy earned three more points in its biggest match to date, outlasting Chivas USA 3-1 in the second installment of the 2012 Honda Superclasico on Saturday night.

“I thought we played well from start to finish,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “We were very good going forward, Donovan and Keane were outstanding again, Beckham’s passing was excellent and good team effort for the most part.”

The win maintains the Galaxy’s grip on fifth place in the Western Conference, as they are now seven points clear of Chivas for the West’s final playoff spot and are now one point back of both Seattle and Vancouver for third in the conference pending the outcome of the Whitecaps’ matchup against San Jose on Sunday night.

The Galaxy (9-10-3, 30 points) found the lone goal in the first half in the 14th minute, as David Beckham played a ball through for Robbie Keane behind the Chivas backline, while the defenders stood still, perhaps anticipating an offside flag that unfortunately for them, didn’t go up. The end result was predictable, as Keane slipped a ball past keeper Dan Kennedy into the back net.

“It feels a self-inflicted wound,” Chivas head coach Robin Fraser said of the goal. “It was a mistake on our part that led to that.”

The flag finally went up against Keane in the 20th minute, when Donovan played a ball for a sprinting Keane, who again got behind the Chivas line, but was called back this time around although that call was also debatable. Chivas (6-8-5, 23 points) got some chances themselves towards the end of the half, but keeper Josh Saunders turned back volleys by Nick LaBrocca and Ben Zemanski.

“I told the fourth official I would buy him dinner if that was offside though I’m sure that would cost me a lot,” Arena said regarding the offside call.

Los Angeles had seemingly put the game away in the 48th minute when Keane sprung Landon Donovan for a breakaway which ended with Donovan beating Kennedy far post to widen the Galaxy lead. Chivas however pulled one back four minutes later when Ryan Smith, after turning left back Bryan Gaul, fed a ball to Paolo Cardozo and the former Galaxy midfielder lifted a ball towards goal that beat Saunders near post to cut the LA lead in half. Fired up by the goal, Chivas immediately pressed for the equalizer, and had a golden opportunity in the 60th minute when Juan Pablo Angel, who had replaced Smith after the latter pulled up lame, floated a ball into the penalty box, but was sent back. Chivas maintained possession and Cardozo went for the brace, lobbing a ball towards and unguarded part of the net, but Saunders leaped and sent back the ball to preserve the Galaxy lead.

“We definitely had good moments, but at the end of the day, definitely self-inflicted wounds was the story for us,” Fraser said.

Looking to stem the rising tide against them, the Galaxy immediately went back on the offensive. A chance by Donovan in the 62nd minute bounced off the left post while numerous chances, most of them by Robbie Keane, either narrowly missed the frame or were denied by Dan Kennedy. The Galaxy finally pushed a third goal across in the 78th minute when a David Beckham corner was headed forward by Omar Gonzalez to Bryan Gaul. Gaul’s shot on goal was deflected, but went to the foot of Donovan, who buried the point-blank chance to restore LA’s two-goal lead and essentially wipe away any chance of a Chivas comeback.
“We’re playing well,” Donovan said. “Guys that we need to make plays are making plays. Candidly, we’re probably leaving a few goals on the table, so as good as we feel about this, we know we can still be better and little by little, we’re getting better defensively.”

The Galaxy will take some time out from MLS play as they host EPL side Tottenham Hotspur in a friendly match on Tuesday night. Los Angeles will then have three days off before heading to Dallas to face FC Dallas next Saturday.

Los Angeles Galaxy 3, Chivas USA 1
July 21, 2012; Home Depot Center

Scoring Summary
LA – Robbie Keane (David Beckham) 14
LA – Landon Donovan (Robbie Keane) 48
CUSA – Paolo Cardozo (Ryan Smith) 52
LA – Landon Donovan (Bryan Gaul, Omar Gonzalez) 78

Discipline Summary

CUSA – Ryan Smith (Foul) 18

LA – David Beckham (Dissent) 32

CUSA – Ben Zemanski (Foul) 36

CUSA – Rauwshan McKenzie (Foul) 47

LA – Landon Donovan (Foul) 53


Chivas USA (6-8-5, 23 points) – Dan Kennedy, James Riley, Danny Califf, Rauwshan McKenzie, Ante Jazic, Nick LaBrocca, Blair Gavin (Paolo Cardozo 45), Ben Zemanski, Jose Correa, Miller Bolanos, Ryan Smith (Juan Pablo Angel 57).

Los Angeles Galaxy (9-10-3, 30 points) – Josh Saunders, Sean Franklin, A.J. DeLaGarza, David Junior Lopes, Bryan Gaul, Hector Jimenez (Omar Gonzalez 68), David Beckham, Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas (Michael Stephens 81), Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane.

Official: Jorge Gonzalez
Assistants: Mike Kampmeinert, Fabio Tovar
Fourth Official: Mark Doclouet
Weather: Clear and 77 degrees
Attendance: 25,180
Time of Match: 1:52

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Columbus Crew will test DC United’s maturity

Posted on 21 July 2012 by Steve Long

Tonight’s game at Columbus is not a season defining game, but it may well demonstrate whether the first 17 minutes of last Sunday’s match at Houston or the 73 that followed were. Coherence and a small degree of dominance broke down when Bill Hamid was ejected and DC United failed to survive the loss of one player.

In MLS there remains considerable parity in basic player talent placing coaching talent and the blending of player psyches and talents at a premium. United coach Ben Olsen seems to understand that, “But, we need to concern ourselves with ourselves right now and how we react to a disappointing loss in Houston.”

For much of the early season, Olsen relied on the prolific and varied talents of Dwayne DeRosario to carry his attack through central midfield. The burden was heavy, but the Captain became a great provider of assists at great cost to his body.

While he has coped with the strain via great conditioning and wise use of his body, the aging MVP really needed a bit more freedom from some defensive responsibilities inherent in the position to free up his creative side.

With the gradual integration of Branko Boskovic as a starter, DeRosario can now seek space wherever he wishes. The value of the midfield/withdrawn forward combination that started in Houston was obvious. It appeared that a certain team maturity had ripened.

Sadly, that maturity lapsed when Olsen chose to pull Boskovic in order to put in Joe Willis for the ejected Hamid. In a game that placed a premium on patience and self control, he took off the primary catalyst for just that attitude.

Olsen has faced a tension between athleticism and control throughout the season. The problem is not unique in MLS and United’s low current injury rate has now given him a broad range of choices to blend or to emphasize one or the other.

Boskovic paired with a quickly maturing Perry Kitchen to steady the midfield and provide the athletic Danny Cruz and aggressive Chris Pontius with a solid platform for 17 minutes. That combination would be a good choice against Columbus tonight, but for the calf injury that will keep Boskovic out.

This is where Olsen may take an interesting chance by starting Lewis Neal in the creative midfield position. The versatile Brit showed his wisdom and skill as Boskovic’s relief in the win over Montreal and should bring a similar maturity to the position.

Although Maicon Santos was a part of the strong first 17 minutes, he was not very helpful in the subsequent 73. Hamdi Salihi could provide another boost in sophistication to cover for Boskovic’s absence. His inclusion in the starting 11 will indicate that Olsen has opted for a controlled game.

This does not mean that DC United will lack an attack. Pontius, Cruz, and DeRosario can still slash into the defense to take advantage of clever positioning by Salihi who will either draw coverage to provide space or be available to strike on his own.

While the Crew are not a top level team at the moment and have a fairly high injury toll to handicap them, they have a sturdy defense and would best be attacked with precision and patience. In order to succeed in the playoffs that are the minimum goal for this year’s side, United will need to establish the flexibility to be controlled as well as athletic.

They gave a glimpse of that in the early minutes against Houston and tonight will show whether they and their coach have taken a big step toward maturity.

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Sounders Score 4 Goals, Lose 4-2 to Chelsea

Posted on 19 July 2012 by Kyle Alm

For the regular fan a “big club” like Chelsea or Barcelona come to town it is an exciting event. In the Sounders inaugural MLS season there were three extra matches for season ticket holders, one was for the MLS Cup, the other two were later announced to be Barcelona & Chelsea.

Obviously the appeal of successful European sides is compelling enough for Seattle fans to fight mid-week traffic and it helps to build the relevance of MLS and helps gain exposure for the league and for players that may be looking to leave MLS for Europe. There is a consistent, if not somewhat annoying and pretentious, refrain that these friendlies should not be played at all considering the risk of injury to players and a crowded game schedule with MLS, US Open Cup, & CONCACAF Champions League fixtures. There is a risk involved, but injuries can happen at practice as easily as during a match.

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Chelsea started out looking very dominating, Jeff Parke was flattened by Romelu Lukaku on a run in the 3rd minute of play that had no other possible outcome than a goal. Eden Hazard piled on in the 11th minute with another goal that took a deflection and went in behind Bryan Meredith, no chance at the save given his momentum and the deflection.

Fredy Montero got the Sounders on the scoreboard with an inextricable turnover that he recived alone at the top of the box, Henrique Hilario had no chance at the Colombian’s shot as it rolled past in the 14th minute. Fredy Montero would strike again for another goal in the 32nd minute on a cross from Mauro Rosales, Montero certainly showed his quality, trapped with his right foot on the top of the box, brought the ball to his left foot and placed his shot to the far post.

For Sounders drawing equal was a huge accomplishment for a team who had yet to score against a visiting English Premier League team. It would only last eight minutes until Marko Marin’s shot was deflected in by a Sounders defender for the second time, an arguable own goal by Jeff Parke, the second goal of the night that he had a touch on. Lukaku would get one more goal in the 44th before the halftime whistle.

More of the Chelsea first team were put on at the half, Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill, Michael Essien, Sam Hutchinson, Kevin de Bruyne, Jamal Blackman, and Ramires staring the half. Sounders kept their 11 on the pitch. Despite the first team coming on there would be no more scoring and both teams settled in. Seattle began substituting the 60th minute, and an eager Seattle crowded started to buzz when Roger Levesque warmed up, continued to build when Andy Rose and Patrick Ianni were put on for Osvaldo Alonso and Jeff Parke.

Levesque came on in the 66th minute for Eddie J0hnson to a rousing ovation from the Emerald City Supporters and the 53,400 odd fans.

Brad Evans managed to take a knock to the knee in the 67th minute and was not able to continue. Although some may take this as proof positive that friendlies are bad, it is Brad “nagging injury” Evans we are talking about here and players get hurt in practice also, but no one ever says not to practice.

Ultimately, this match was about Roger Levesque closing the chapter on his Sounders career, it was a proper stage for his retirement. Levesque wasn’t likely to see much time at the end of the 2012 season, retiring against Chelsea was a better place to find playing time than in a meaningful game at the end of the season.

Roger Levesque stayed on the field for over 30 minutes after the match signing autographs for fans. That’s why the Seattle fans love him so, and for scoring in 48 seconds against Portland.

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PREVIEW: Chelsea at Seattle Sounders

Posted on 18 July 2012 by Kyle Alm

When Chelsea was announced as Sounders exhibition match, the reaction seemed a measured sigh of disappointment with the exception of Chelsea fans. Despite winning the UEFA Champions League Chelsea was not a draw. Chelsea had been to Seattle in 2009, and with the notable exception of Didier Drogba, Chelsea remain much the same side.

When Roger Levesque announced that Chelsea would be his final match everyone wanted to be there.

Roger Levesque has probably given himself carpal tunnel signing autographs for fans post match and no one can forget his 48 second goal in Portland in the 2009 US Open Cup, or epic goal celebrations a la Lumber Jaqua and Scuba Steve. When Roger gets in the fans get pumped. They love him so much he was featured above all other Sounders in an ECS TIFO aimed directly across the bow of the Timbers.

It certainly seems calculated, Roger gets to play his final game as a Sounder against a high-profile opponent in a meaningless match. Not a bad way to go out, Roger has to figure on being close to retiring and he probably isn’t going to see the pitch in the remaining US Open Cup matches, CONCACAF Champions League or many MLS matches.

It’s the surest way to make sure you play, Levesque will probably get 70-80 minutes tonight, plenty of time to score and be taken off to a rowsing ovation from his adoring fans.

Aside from Levesque’s curtain call, look for Sounders to showcase their two transfer rumors, Fredy Montero and Alvaro Fernandez, to rampant speculation.


UPDATE: Levesque is not in the starting lineup.

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Disciplined play is the order of United’s day

Posted on 13 July 2012 by Steve Long

It’s summer doldrums time. You know, when there’s no wind and nothing happening except heat and humidity. Fortunately for DC United there are few games to wear down the team. Injuries are down to one, Lance Rozeboom, and Coach Ben Olsen can afford to lend out three players for the weekend.

Actually, DC United has been drifting for well over a month, with losses to Philadelphia and RBNY and unimpressive wins over the former and Montreal. They will need more than a lackluster effort to defeat the Houston Dynamo on Sunday.

Against the still slowly improving Impact, United did show some of the discipline that will be required to successfully confront the always solid Dominc Kinnear-coached side. Given the narrowness of the new pitch in Houston, a cool-headed midfield will be a must.

With the emergence of Lewis Neal as a strong substitute for Branko Boskovic, I would start him at central midfield and keep Dwayne DeRosario in a withdrawn forward role. Chris Pontius is an obvious choice for the first eleven, but Maicon Santos and Hamdi Salihi are hard to ignore as forwards.

It seems that Olsen has too many good choices. Let’s step back and consider the real strength of his roster. In a 4-4-2 system, he has 8-8-4 very solid options, and the goalkeeper slot is deep as well. Only on defense does the team drop off even slightly. Yet, the fourth ranked central defender, Ethan White, showed well last year and seems to be continuing to grow stronger.

So solid are the midfield choices that one can only guess who Olsen might decide has been the most effective or hardest worker at each week’s practice. Danny Cruz and Nick DeLeon bring youthful athleticism and a driving attitude while Andy Najar brings a menacing attacker’s mentality.

For the next few weeks, Najar will be with the Honduras Olympic team, which means that Olsen could comfortably slide Pontius back to a wide role where he could interchange with DeRosario to unbalance Houston’s defense.

Pontius’ recent success maintaining a wider stance and selectively sliding into the center shows an improving sense of the value of timing and positioning, the signature of a top class striker. His interplay with DeRosario and the forward attacker are critical to United’s success.

Given the narrower field, I would choose Santos, mostly for his long shooting ability which will keep Houston’s defense closer to him and open up a bit more space inside. Then again, Salihi is no slouch at finding or creating space for himself or others, still another dilemma for defenders.

Coaching is never easy, even when you have many good choices. Since returning from a hamstring injury, Dejan Jakovic has played especially well and has partnered well with Brandon McDonald. This has left a very competent and seasoned defender, Emiliano Dudar, on the bench.

The RBNY game was the only time United gave up more than one goal, but that statistic may be misleading given the lower quality of the other opponents and the masterful saves of Bill Hamid which covered a multitude of defensive sins.

The Dynamo’s Kinnear is certain to have identified the best route to United’s goal and Olsen should be prepared to move any of the recent starters to the bench except for Daniel Woolard, who has earned the ongoing start on the left.

Despite holding a position near the top of MLS, DC United has not really gelled yet. Olsen was wise to give his players a break, especially during the recent heat. If they returned with renewed focus and can play with the discipline necessary, they should meet the test.

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Seattle Sounders Outlast Colorado Rapids

Posted on 08 July 2012 by Kyle Alm

Summer had finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest after a dreary June that only was exceeded in dreariness by the Sounders performance over the same period of time. Seattle Sounders have not won a match in their last ten fixtures, they have managed to gather 5 points, 4 of those on the road, despite their inability to to win all 3 points. Sounders had plenty of other reasons to be optimistic other than the weather over the 4th of July Holiday, speculation was palpable as to whether or not Steve Zakuani would play against the team he faced when his leg was shattered by a Brian Mullan tackle 14 months ago.

Colorado Rapids have never been a favorite in Seattle and Mullan’s season-ending tackle on Steve Zakuani in 2011 certainly raised the ire of the Sounder supporters who felt that the longest suspension MLS has ever handed out was too lenient for Mullan. Colorado are well known for a pair of physical and athletic forwards, Conor Casey & Omar Cummings, and typically line up 4-4-2. Tonight Cummings was on the bench and a 4-3-3 was utilized.

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Sounders started well early, although possession statistics at the second half  indicated that it was a very even first half, possession was 52-48 in favor of Colorado who also completed 20 more passes in the first half than Sounders. Colorado did not get a shot on target in the first half, although there was one cross turned shot that had Bryan Meredith backpedalling to ensure the ball went over the crossbar and ran into the post that was very close to on frame although it was not scored as a shot on target officially. Matt Pickens on the other hand had work to do as early, stretching out to make two saves in the first 11 minutes of play.

Alvaro Fernandez would break the deadlock in the 52nd minute on a corner kick from Mauro Rosales on a near post run. Fernandez did not appear to be contested much on the opportunity and headed the ball into Matt Pickens net with such ease that it ought to happen more frequently. For Fernandez it was his first goal of the season, clearly sub par compared to his goal tally of 2011 of 9, although he could still reach that number with relative ease.

Sounders scored again 12 minutes later when Pat Ianni kept the ball from clearing the Rapids box after a corner kick, found Mauro Rosales on the left wing who assisted his second goal of the night on another cross to Eddie Johnson who had been receiving treatment for . Spirits were high among the Seattle faithful, a win was certainly within their grasp with a scant 25 minutes left until the 3 points that have been so elusive would finally be in their point column.

Colorado did not go away quietly, although they did have rather lengthy spells of what appeared to be listless and nonthreatening attack that made their possession effectively useless. Colorado had only three total shots on target the entire match

Sounders have found every way imaginable to not win games over their last ten MLS fixtures and they came dangerously close to giving away an equalizer in the 85th minute when Jeff Larentowicz found Omar Cummings in the box who was offside by the slimmest of margins.

Perhaps the defense was slightly distracted by who was about to come on for Rosales. Steve Zakuani brought the fans to a frenzy when came on to the pitch. 14 months of waiting for one of the most promising young players in MLS to return was let out in cathartic cheer that probably won’t be exceeded until Zakuani scores his first goal. Zakuani did well for a player who was just finding his way back to fitness and on to the pitch and wasn’t reinjured in the process.

At the end of match Brian Mullan & Steve Zakuani exchanged jerseys. Mullan never had any intent to harm Zakuani over a year ago, at the time Mullan was so emotional about it that he was unable to play. The two players have put this behind them and hopefully the fans will be following suit.

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Galaxy fall to Union at Last Minute

Posted on 05 July 2012 by iyeo

The Los Angeles Galaxy welcomed a big piece of last year’s championship squad into its backline for its Independence Day matchup against the Philadelphia Union.

The Galaxy had hoped the return of 6-5 Center Back and reigning Defensive Player of the Yea Omar Gonzalez could provide a spark to a backline that not only has been makeshift but has surprisingly leaked in goals at an alarming rate. Gonzalez held his own during the first half before eventually giving way to Sean Franklin before the start of the second half.

“I was really happy to get out there,” Gonzalez said. “I was pretty nervous all day, but once the ref blew the whistle, I was ready to go and I felt comfortable.”

However, not even Gonzalez’s return could prevent the same sort of mistakes that have bogged down the Galaxy for much of the season, namely poor finishing and defensive lapses that have led to back-breaking goals, and Wednesday’s game was more of the same, as LA’s inability to finish chances and two stoppage time goals enabled the Union to sneak out of the Home Depot Center with a 2-1 win.

“We gave a game away,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “That’s a game that we should have walked away comfortably with three points in my opinion.”

Jack McInerney scored the first stoppage time goal just before halftime, but Michael Farfan’s stoppage time goal in the second half was the back-breaker for Los Angeles, who were just moments away from picking up at least a point in the match. Instead, Philadelphia comes out victorious against the Galaxy for the first time in franchise history.

“Any team that talks about being successful, talks about how they’re going to compete and battles hard, they need this kind of result,” Union head coach John Hackworth said.

The Galaxy (6-10-2, 20 points) had chances to get on the board first throughout the first half. Five minutes into the match, Robbie Keane had the ball inside the penalty box, Keane maneuvered past two Union defenders, drew out keeper Zach MacMath, fired the ball past him, but was cleared at the goal line. Seconds later, MacMath turned back Hector Jimenez’s chance inside the box. Then in the 11th minute, Donovan fed Keane inside the box, Keane again drew out MacMath, but defenders Gabriel Farfan and Amobi Okugo held the goal line, Keane shot a ball off Farfan and the ball appeared to hit Farfan’s hand, but referee Armando Villareal thought otherwise, and let play continue. The Union eventually made the Galaxy pay for its own misfortunes just before halftime, as Michael Farfan had the ball on the right wing, Farfan took Center Back David Junior Lopes all the way to the endline, then crossed a ball into the 18 and McInerney flicked a ball off the back of his right heel, fooling keeper Josh Saunders and finding its way into the inside netting far post.

“It’s just lack of concentration,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. “They were barely on our end in the first half and one play and the guy scores a one-in-a-thousand goal and that’s it. Sometimes that’s the way this game is.”

The Galaxy pressed for the equalizer in the second half, and came close on a corner kick attempt in the 60th minute, but Lopes’ chance bounced off the crossbar. The Galaxy eventually evened the score in the 73rd minute when Todd Dunivant’s cross inside the 18 into the six found the foot of Chad Barrett, whose sliding shot beat MacMath into the back net for his first goal of the season. A draw seemed imminent, but Philadelphia (4-9-2, 14 points) got one last shot during the six-minute stoppage time, and Michael Farfan got the one chance, as he took a back-heel pass from Lionard Pajoy, went into the penalty box and curled a ball low that beat Saunders far post for the game-winner.

“We didn’t play our best, but for the guys in that locker room to fight as hard as they fought, to dig down deep when clearly, we didn’t have our best legs today, and guys to say ‘hey we gotta make a play, that was fantastic,” Hackworth said.

The Galaxy will cap off its busy week on Sunday when they travel to Chicago for its only meeting with the Fire. The Union meanwhile will return home to face Toronto FC, also on Sunday.

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Mature play brings DC United 3-0 win

Posted on 02 July 2012 by Steve Long

Over the past month, DC United has not looked particularly sharp. The games against Philadelphia and New York were especially pedestrian. The midfield lacked control. Midway through the loss to the Red Bulls, Branko Boskovic showed the way out of United’s malaise.

Coach Ben Olsen understood his team’s problem, “Knowing that it was going to be a hot day, the fact that we weren’t sharp in possession the last two weeks – that was something that we needed to have today, and we had it.”

The Impact’s visit came at a perfect time, offering the best possible test for Olsen to give Boskovic a start against a tired team and showed why renewing his contract was such a good move for DC, “Now, let’s be realistic, they sat back and gave us a lot of possession, but I thought we moved the ball pretty well at times, and Branko has a lot to do with that.”

Assistant Coach Josh Wolff explained the value of returning the on-form Chris Pontius to a wing role. In the past both Pontius and Andy Najar have pinched into the middle as a matter of habit. In Saturday’s game they held their wide positions much more than usual and it paid off.

Wolff knows the youngsters well, “It’s important for us to keep our shape. At times they (the wings) get a little bit free flowing and get pinched in a bit too much, but tonight they were OK. It took a little while for us to utilize some of those guy’s traits.

“The one time Pontius stayed wide and came off of Maicon he got a good shot that hit off the post. The next time he delayed his run a bit and DeRo finds him and it’s good.” Players with the attacking skills of Pontius and Najar have to be respected wherever they move, but must vary what they do to keep defenders off balance.

The maturity to recognize the proper moment to delay or to move swiftly to attack comes from experience in both practice and play with more mature and savvy players. The value of Boskovic, Dwayne DeRosario, and Lewis Neal lies not just in their specific skills with the ball, but in their examples of when and how to move.

Neal has played on the left on defense briefly and midfield more often. His style is in the European mold that emphasizes possession and control. His introduction in the center as a controlling midfielder demonstrates Olsen’s insight into his team’s needs.

Neal was more than happy to be of help, “The more spots that I can be more used at the better chance of getting on the pitch….I’ve played in there through my career previously back in England at Stoke City and I’ve played there a number of times. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no expert on the role, but I’ve got a good idea of what to do..… The guys were tired. It was important that we kept the ball a little bit.”

The holding midfielder may initiate attacks, but does so only as chances to strike are clear and comfortable. A creative midfielder has more license to roam and will seek space where he can find it. A defensive midfielder will fill gaps and deflect attacks as flow requires. Neal is a holding midfielder.

That role means that he should spend almost all of his time near an imaginary center of mass of a well shaped team. He will move slightly off the exact center to form triangles to support his teammates and thereby allow his team continued control of the ball.

If a teammate is pressured, he should look near the center of mass and see a supporter. Neal’s role was clear, “Just try and dictate play a little bit, keep the ball for us. They were my instructions from the coach and staff to just come on and try to do that.”

Olsen now has a good strategy to use when needed, which should be frequently, use Boskovic to create and relieve him with Neal so DeRosario can play withdrawn forward for the entire game. This addresses fatigue issues for two vital and aging creative players.

Olsen acknowledged that Neal is also versatile enough to create if necessary, “We’ve been waiting to put him in [the midfield], we know he can play here and we know he understands that position. It’s just that we’ve had more of a need for him in the left midfield at times, and left back as well. It’s just another position we know he can play now, and he’s just a versatile, smart kid.”

Over the next two months as United faces a series of Eastern Conference opponents the strength of opposition will test the team’s cohesion. The Philadelphia games showed United’s weakness and the Red Bulls game did so in spades, until Boskovic went in.

The change in DC’s game was immediate and the Montreal game reinforced the value of mature team play. It remains to be seen whether United can withstand the sustained aggressive midfield play that will surely be used against them in the next two months.

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