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A debut, a win and a goal. Not a bad start to Christian Wilhelmsson’s stint with the LA Galaxy. The Swedish winger netted LA’s second goal in a 2-0 win over the visiting Colorado Rapids.
It’s been over two weeks since the Galaxy last played an MLS match, but coming in unbeaten in their last four and 7-2-1 in their last 10, LA returned to league play still just three points behind Real Salt Lake for the West’s 3rd spot.
Galaxy Head Coach Bruce Arena welcomed the newcomer, Wilhelmsson, by handing him the start just 10 days after signing with the club. While David Beckham, who suffered an ankle injury in training, did not dress for the match, the Galaxy’s captain, Landon Donovan, returned after missing the team’s last three matches and national team duty to nurse an ailing hamstring. Also returning, Robbie Keane, who played during the international break with Ireland in World Cup qualifiers.
On the Rapids side of the ball, Colorado Head Coach Oscar Pareja opted to stick with the squad that defeated the Portland Timbers 3-0 at home a little over a week ago.
You wouldn’t have known it by the way Colorado came out in the first 15 minutes, but they’re a team harboring slim hopes at a playoff spot. But whatever urgency you might have expected eluded the Rapids in much of this match.
In just the 3rd minute, Galaxy fullback Sean Franklin worked a nifty 1-2 with Keane at the edge of the area, springing the defender clean on goal. Fortunately for the Rapids, Franklin’s resolve in front of goal mirrored his position and he could only manage to hit the outside of the net with his golden chance.
With all the pressure early in the match, the Galaxy would find their opener and once again Keane was involved. Only this time, the Irishman took the finishing upon himself. In a sequence displaying an array of slick passing and intelligent movement off the ball, Marcelo Sarvas squared a pass in Keane’s direct just outside the Colorado penalty area. The forward feigned a touch and opted to let the ball continue to his strike partner Donovan while Keane sprinted into the area. Donovan’s first time ball found Keane in stride and after his first touch to collect, the forward expertly finished his shot left-footed into the far corner in the 15th minute.
“It was a great goal,” said Donovan after the match about Keane’s finish. “I thought we started the game really well and we had a few good chances early. It was really important to get a goal early against a team that really came here with no intention of winning the game.”
The goal is Keane’s 9th in the last 14 games and surprisingly Marcelo Sarvas’ first assist of the season in MLS.
After taking the lead just 15 minutes in, LA had few quality opportunities to close the half. For Colorado, they ended with a bit of a flourish but with not so much as a shot on goal to show for their troubles. Both sides entered the break looking fairly content with the scoreline on a unusually hot night.
“It was an inconsistent half after we scored. I think we took our foot off the pedal a little bit and got sloppy,” said Arena of the first half after the match.
The Business End:
While the Colorado never seemed to much of a threat for the Galaxy back line that has three clean sheets in their last four matches, the new boy, Wilhelmsson, put extinguished any Rapids’ hope in the 58th minute when Sarvas found the winger behind the Colorado defense. Fending off the challenge of two defenders, the Swede’s left-footed shot from 20 yards appeared harmless until goalkeeper Matt Pickens got ahold of it. The Rapids’ man made a mess of it and the ball trickled in to cap a perfect start to Wilhelmsson’s time in a Galaxy shirt.
Pareja’s choices to go with Conor Casey and Cummings on the bench to start might have been his attempt to play the hot hand, but when the Rapids resorted to attempting to beat LA via balls into the box, without the strength of Casey, the Rapids had little chance. The combination of Sarvas and Juninho in LA’s midfield has been uncanny as of late, and once again the Brazilians put on a textbook display through the middle with numerous interceptions, clockwork passing and two assists from Sarvas. Add the addition of another quality playmaker the the Galaxy line-up in Wilhelmsson on the wing and LA had little trouble in the match despite a bit of rust from the layoff.
The win is LA’s 3rd in 4 matches. Level with RSL, Donovan has reiterated the Galaxy’s intention to climb as high as they can before the end of the season. With matches still remaining against the teams just ahead of them (Seattle and San Jose) and the way the team is clicking on both sides of the field, it looks like this team could be a nightmare come playoff time.
LA will now head to Puerto Rico for a CONCACAF Champions League clash on Wednesday before returning home to take on Toronto FC on Saturday.
Since being embarrassed 4-0 with all three designated players on the field and in front of a crowd of 60,000 people in Seattle, the Galaxy have been on fire. And while those three designated players have done their fair share in LA’s recently run of five wins and one draw in their last six games in all competitions, the true protagonist of the Galaxy’s sizzling form has been the play of the midfield maestro that is Juninho. On Saturday night, the Vancouver Whitecaps could do little to cool down the Brazilian or LA.
Juninho – 41′ (assisted by Robbie Keane, Héctor Jiménez)
David Beckham – 79′
Both goals were absolute stunners. Juninho capped off a move that started from the Galaxy backline and included no less than nine pass before the Galaxy midfielder unleashed a corker into the top right corner of the Whitecaps goal from 20 yards out. Having netted six times in his last five matches, Juninho’s play has been heralded by Galaxy Head Coach Bruce Arena and attributed to midfielder’s higher level of fitness over the past month. With his box-to-box play, timely tackles and above-average distribution, the addition of goals to his game has made Juninho a top candidate for the league’s top midfielder of the past month.
The second goal was Beckham being Beckham. A trademark free kick in which the opposing goalkeeper is rooted to his line and has little chance of seeing the ball before it is in the back of his net, let alone saving the thing. Like Juninho, Beckham has tallied a career-high in goals this season with his free kick bringing his total to seven. When the phrase “he’s still got it” comes to mind, Beckham’s free kicks should be associated closely with it.
Since reuniting his “championship” backline of Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, AJ De La Garza and Todd Dunivant for the first time in 2012 on Aug. 12, Arena’s men have recorded four clean sheets in all competitions. To put that into perspective, the team had four clean sheets in five months of play prior.
Feeling Like the Playoffs:
After starting the season poorly on all fronts, LA have slowly climbed up out of the Western Conference’s basement and into a playoff spot. With 43 points from 28 matches, the Galaxy are 4th in the table and only two points behind 2nd placed RSL. The win over Vancouver Saturday put six points between LA and the Caps in the West’s final playoff spot, as well as 10 points clear of the nearest outsider looking in, FC Dallas.
Portland vs. Colorado
The Portland Timbers won back-to-back matches for the first time this season and finally escaped the Western Conference basement in a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids. Read more about this match on the GFT Portland Timbers blog.
New England vs. Philadelphia
It was the second 0-0 draw in a row for the Union, who had more opportunities against the Revolution but couldn’t convert. The Union had the two best chances of the match when Amobi Okugo’s header hit the crossbar, and Andre Hoppenot’s breakaway opportunity was parried away by New England’s Matt Reis. With Saer Sene out for the rest of the season, Jay Heaps will have his work cut out for him trying to find someone on the Revolution to score goals.
Columbus Crew vs. Montreal Impact
The Columbus Crew won the battle between two of MLS’ hottest teams thanks to a late goal from Edgar Renteria to defeat the Montreal Impact 2-1. Here’s the recap from our Columbus Crew blogger.
Sporting KC vs. Toronto
It wasn’t the prettiest match, but Sporting KC came through with two second half goals from Paulo Nagamura and Oriol Rossell to defeat Toronto FC 2-1. Here’s more thoughts on this match from our Sporting KC blogger.
Real Salt Lake vs. DC United
There was a lightning start to this match in Sandy, Utah and I mean literally as two lightning strikes in the fourth minute of play led to a weather delay of 1 hour and 24 minutes. Real Salt Lake’s Will Johnson got the lone goal of the match early in the second half when Paulo Jr.’s cross was deflected and Johnson split two defenders and put the ball away past keeper Bill Hamid. Kwame Watson-Siriboe had a goal in the 61st minute but it was waved off when Watson-Siriboe was called for handling. Things got chippy between both sides in the second half and four yellow cards were handed out in the last twenty minutes. The win kept Real Salt Lake in 2nd position in the Western Conference with 46 points. The loss pushed DC United into 6th place in the Eastern Conference with 41 points. They trail the Columbus Crew by 1 point for the 5th and final playoff spot.
Los Angeles vs. Vancouver
Los Angeles got a spectacular goal from Juninho and yet another direct free kick goal from David Beckham to deal the Vancouver Whitecaps its 4th straight defeat. Here’s the full recap from our Los Angeles Galaxy blogger.
Chicago vs. Houston
The Chicago Fire used a first-minute goal from Patrick Nyarko to jumpstart themselves to a 3-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo. The Dynamo were playing their 2nd match in 3 days and it showed. The Fire meanwhile were well rested after coming off a 10 day break. Daniel Paladini and Alex rounded out the scoring for the Fire while Brian Ching got the lone goal for the Dynamo. The victory lifted the Fire into 3rd place (44 points) in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Dynamo. The Dynamo, on the other hand, are struggling at the wrong time and are now winless in their last six matches.
FC Dallas vs. Seattle
Steve Zakuani made his first MLS start since breaking his leg 500 days ago and got an assist to help the Seattle Sounders remain undefeated at FC Dallas with a 1-1 draw. Zakuani blew past FC Dallas fullback Zach Loyd and sent a cross to the back post which connected with Mauro Rosales for the match’s opening goal. FC Dallas equalized in the 32nd minute when Loyd redeemed himself with a cross in front of goal which Blas Perez controlled and sent to Jackson who knocked it in the back of the net. The draw wasn’t good enough for a FC Dallas club (33 points) trying to gain ground on the struggling Vancouver Whitecaps (37 points) for the 5th Western Conference playoff spot. The draw also kept Seattle in the 3rd playoff spot with 44 points, trailing only Real Salt Lake (46 points) and the San Jose Earthquakes (53 points).
San Jose vs. Chivas USA
The San Jose Earthquakes continued their stellar play at Buck Shaw Stadium scoring 3 of their 4 goals on direct free kicks to crush Chivas USA 4-0. Victor Bernardez’s free kick got things started for the Earthquakes and Simon Dawkins added a goal in the run of play to give his team a 2-0 lead going into the half. Chivas USA were in decent attacking form throughout the match but just couldn’t make good when it counted. The Earthquakes Ramiro Corrales capped off his team’s rout with two free kick goals in the 2nd half. The victory puts San Jose in sole possession of first place in the race for the Supporter’s Shield. The loss continued a trend of bad form for Chivas USA, who have given up 18 goals over the last 5 matches.
UPCOMING MLS ACTION:
No Beckham. No Keane. No Donovan…. No problem.
Fielding a reserve side featuring 10 changes from their CONCACAF Champions League opener, the LA Galaxy defeated the Puerto Rico Islanders 4-0 Wednesday night at the Home Depot Center.
With 18-year-old Jose Villarreal as the only player return to the starting XI from last weeks 5-2 win over Isidro Metapán, LA avenged a defeat to the Islanders in the qualifying stages of the 2010 CCL with goals from Tommy Meyer, Villarreal, Jack McBean and Michael Stephens.
The Galaxy opened the match’s scoring less than 10 minutes in when Meyer’s bullet header from the left side of the 6-yard box found the back of the net off a corner kick. The eventual game winner was the defender first goal since be drafted in the first round by the Galaxy before the start of the season.
Just minutes later, Villarreal almost made it two when his cross into the box was redirected by an Islanders defender and narrowly saved by the Islander goalkeeper. Applying pressure with excellent movement and passing through the midfield, the Galaxy would continue to press the Islanders throughout much of the first half but still fail to find a second.
They would not be waiting long however.
Almost directly from the match’s restart, Hector Jimenez’s long ball found the head of McBean just beyond midfield. The Galaxy forward’s flick-on header picked out the slashing run of Villarreal, who muscled his way between two defenders and toed the ball past Islander keeper Richard Martin in the 46th minute. The goal would be the youngster’s final contribution on the night though as a knock on the head received in the process led to his substitution in the 51st minute. LA were far from finished though.
McBean would turn recipient after setting up Villarreal’s goal when his second attempt at a Jimenez cross was fired into the upper left corner in the 79th minute. And rounding out the night’s revenge and capping his MOTM-like performance, Stephens added LA’s fourth with an incisive run through the middle of the Islander’s defense and a cool right-footed finish in the 81st.
The win distances LA from the rest of the pack in Group 5 with six points from two matches and an impressive plus-7 goal differential.
The Galaxy will travel to finish out group play starting with the return leg in Puerto Rico on Sept. 19, before closing out the group away to Metapán in October. And Saturday, the Galaxy will be back in MLS play, when they counter the team directly below them in the standings, the Vancouver Whitecaps, in a match with potential playoff implications.
Philadelphia v Real Salt Lake
Poor NBC Sports. This match was a stinker. Real Salt Lake was pretty tired from playing in the CONCACF Champions League earlier in the week and the Philadelphia Union are never a guarantee to play any form of attractive soccer. The match ended in a 0-0 draw. Man of the Match went to the MLS video crew who somehow were able to fill up a highlight video over 4 minutes long.
Montreal v DC United
The Montreal Impact continue to be one of the hottest teams in MLS right now after registering their 5th win in a row, defeating DC United 3-0. Troy Perkins registered his second shutout in his third game with the team and Marco Di Vaio gave the Impact the lead for good in the 24th minute, getting his 3rd goal of the season. Patrice Bernier continued his fantastic season scoring two second half goals to seal the victory. DC United coach Ben Olson received a bit of criticism after the match after deciding to sub out star players, Dwayne DeRosario and Chris Pontius in the first half. The Impact are now only 1 point out of the 5th Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Columbus v New England
This was an absolute goalfest with Columbus defeating New England 4-3. Read the entire match recap from GFT Columbus Crew blogger, Adam Uthe.
Houston v Toronto FC
Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear could not have been happy on Saturday night after seeing his team dominate a good portion of the match only to allow Toronto FC to equalize in the 85th minute. The Dynamo took the lead in the 21st minute when Will Bruin chipped the ball over a charging Freddy Hall. After a stellar first half, the Dynamo couldn’t maintain the same level of energy. Toronto finally took advantage of some sluggish play from the Houston backline after Terry Dunfield made a run through box and connected with a Darren O’Dea cross to steal a point for his team.
San Jose v Colorado
The Earthquakes got two goals each from Simon Dawkins and Alan Gordon to demolish the Colorado Rapids 4-1 and extend their home winning streak to 14 games. Gordon continued his stellar play which resulted in a call up to the United States National Team earlier this month. He now has a career-high 11 goals. San Jose remains the top team in MLS with a 15-6-5 (50 points) record. For the Rapids, at least they were able to pad on more air miles to their account. It was a truly dismal effort, even with it being on the road, for the Rapids.
Vancouver v Portland
The Portland Timbers finally got their first win under Gavin Wilkinson (0-5-2 in the previous 7 matches) and also went to the top of the Cascadia Cup standings after beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Saturday night. Darlington Nagbe became the first Timbers player to get a goal in three games in a row and Franck Songo’o scored his first career MLS goal off a free kick to lead the Timbers. The Vancouver Whitecaps continued their struggles on the road this season and are now in the midst of a six match winless streak on the road. Read more about this match on the GFT Portland Timbers blog.
Seattle v Chivas USA
The Seattle Sounders put on a goal-scoring clinic and thoroughly embarrassed Chivas USA in a 6-2 drubbing at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA. Fredy Montero’s first MLS hat-trick propelled the Sounders to an easy victory and their fourth in five matches. The Sounders are now 2nd in the Western Conference standings and their recent form has put the rest of the league on notice as one of the teams to beat in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Despite some promising trades and signings this summer (Danny Califf, Juan Agudelo, Shalrie Joseph) and having one of the top goalkeepers in MLS, Chivas USA can’t seem to right the ship and there’s no doubt that Robin Fraser is on the hot seat.
FC Dallas v Los Angeles
Galaxy take sole possession of the Western Conference’s fourth position by punishing FC Dallas mistakes to win 2-0. Read more about this game from our LA Galaxy blogger, Vincent LaRosa.
Sporting KC v New York
As if Sporting KC’s 1-1 draw to the New York Red Bulls wasn’t disappointing enough, Coach Peter Vermes also had to deal with the news that Teal Bunbury would miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL injury. Read more about this match from Sporting KC blogger, Brian Sanders.
UPCOMING MLS ACTION:
When all else is even, sometimes it’s the mistakes the matter most. On Sunday at the Home Depot Center, the Galaxy made the most of their opponents mistakes beating FC Dallas 2-0 on goals by Juninho and Todd Dunivant.
After a scoreless first half in which both teams spent a majority of the half beating each other up through midfield, Galaxy substitute Jose Villarreal dispossessed FC Dallas’ Matt Hedges as the defender dwelled on the ball a bit too long, putting the teenager in clear on his own net. With only the goalkeeper to beat, Villarreal rounded Kevin Hartman at the far left of the FC Dallas penalty area and played a simple square ball for his onrushing teammate, Juninho, to finish with the simplest of tap-ins in the match’s 66th minute.
“The defender was caught asleep and I managed to pressure him pretty hard. It bounced off my foot and I took a touch right around the keeper. I saw Juninho [with an] open shot and I just passed it to him,” said Villarreal of the sequence.
The set up was a pure hustle play by Villarreal, who has provided LA with a spark of the bench now on multiple occasions since making his debut midway through the season. And while Juninho gets credit for the goal, LA Galaxy Head Coach Bruce Arena singled out his young forward specifically for praise.
“[It was] really alert play to help set up the first goal and really just a solid 30 minutes. [Villarreal] did quite well,” said Arena after the match.
Up 1-0, the Galaxy defense of Sean Franklin, AJ De La Garza, Omar Gonzalez and Dunivant held strong with the help of some key interventions by goalkeeper Josh Saunders, and even found a goal by way of Dunivant to ice the match in the 84th minute.
Lulling the FC Dallas defense to sleep near the left corner of Dallas’ penalty area with a sequence of short passes intended to run out the clock, another second half substitute, Michael Stephens, had the presence of mind to pick out Dunivant as he ghosted in behind the FC Dallas back line. Dunivant’s angled left-footed shot evaded Hartman and nestled into the side net to up the Galaxy advantage to 2-0 with just six minutes remaining in regular time.
“I saw a good opportunity to get forward and Mike Stephens put a good ball in and they kind of looked away and let me through and it was just me and the keeper, so I was fortunate enough to put it in and took a little pressure off of us and kind of seal up the game,” said Dunivant.
The win gives the Galaxy sole possession of the 4th spot in the Western Conference and keeps them just three points behind 2nd and 3rd placed Seattle and Real Salt Lake. Their next match is Wednesday in CONCACAF Champions League group play against the Puerto Rico Islanders before taking on the 5th place Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.
The CONCACAF Champions League rolled into town with a bang on Thursday night with its usual array of goals, cards and refereeing gaffes galore. Luckily for the Galaxy, while on the wrong side of the discipline, a red card to Robbie Keane and Bryan Gaul’s conceding of a late penalty, they managed a 5-2 victory to open their group play. This game was a bit erratic towards the end and LA really looked the better side, but why not just have the highlights do the talking:
The Galaxy are now top of Group 5 with another home match on Tuesday against Puerto Rico Islanders. An LA win will put the Galaxy head and shoulders above the competition and go a long ways before having to undertake long trips to El Salvador and Puerto Rico to close out the group. But before diving back into the CCL circus, LA face FC Dallas back in MLS play at home on Saturday.
On Thursday night, the LA Galaxy embark on their continental adventure when they take on Isidro Metapán of El Salvador at the Home Depot Center. The match will be LA’s first in this year’s CONCACAF Champions League.
Qualifying for the tournament as 2011 MLS Cup winners, the Galaxy famously crashed out of last year’s tournament just before the start of this MLS campaign by losing home and away to Toronto FC. The loss sent the MLS champs on an tailspin to start the season, as LA faltered coming into both competitions as a recognized favorite from all sides.
Like the Galaxy, Metapán reached the quarterfinal stages of last year’s competition, before falling to Pumas of Mexico. The Salvadorian squad has already taken part in the group stages with a 3-1 over fellow Group 5 team Puerto Rico Islanders.
With this year’s group stages consisting of only three teams in each group, LA can’t risk a slow start but are also in a precarious position hovering around the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. The Galaxy have had some time to rest having not had a match last weekend, but will turn around and play again just two days later in MLS. It’s likely Galaxy Head Coach Bruce Arena will pepper in many non-starters in this first match up, although losing at home would be detrimental to LA’s qualifying for the knockout rounds of the tournament.
Posted by: Vincent LR
Short Two Designated Players, the DP Picks Up the Slack
That’s why you have three designated players.
Traveling to Columbus without captain Landon Donovan and David Beckham, many questioned how the Galaxy might fare when faced with some adversity away from home. Lucky for LA, Robbie Keane was on his mark.
Fielding the so-called “championship” back line – as the Galaxy Insider Adam Serrano has coined them – of Sean Franklin, AJ De La Garza, Omar Gonzalez and Todd Dunivant for just the second time this season, LA looked under siege throughout much of the first half as the Crew put together some strong sequences going forward. Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders was sharp in net and a few off target efforts saw both teams enter the half knotted at zeros with Columbus enjoying a steep 14 to 3 advantage in shots to close the half.
But having only bent throughout the first half, the Galaxy broke immediately to start the second half.
Columbus forward Jairo Arrieta opened the scoring in the match’s 47th minute cutting across the top of the Galaxy area from wide ride and angling a low drive across his body to the near post. It appeared Saunders had a beat on the shot, but as the ball trickled by, the Galaxy keeper must have seen the shot later than he’d liked or just whiffed on his save. Either way, he should have done better and the Crew held a 1-0 advantage.
But in a match with clear scoring chances few and far between, the Galaxy’s Irish DP showed himself a fox-in-the-box with a true poacher’s goal in the 64th minute.
Michael Stephens sprung Franklin down the right channel and with all the work to do, Franklin managed to slice up his man and get a teasing ball across the Crew 6-yard box. With Franklin going to work on the Crew defense, Keane took the opportunity to slip away from his man and claim the simplest of tap-ins, reappearing at the pivotal moment to roof the ball into an open net. The goal was Keane’s second in successive matches, preserving a draw for the visitors.
With the midweek match out of the way, the Galaxy will now have a week to prepare for their CONCACAF Champions League opener at home against Isidro Metapán of El Salvador on Thursday.
Playing in their first match since the death of their teammate Kirk Urso, the Crew and Galaxy both wore #15 armbands to remember their colleague. Crew supporters had a moment of silence at the match’s 15 minute mark in homage of the former Columbus 22-year-old midfielder.
Posted by: Vincent LR