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Deconstructing the Galaxy downfall; defense a glaring issue

Mar 15, 2012, 10:00 AM EST

CONCACAF Champions League - Toronto FC v Los Angeles Galaxy Getty Images

Chin up, Galaxy fans, the sun will rise tomorrow. Not all is so grim in AEG Valley. Surely, there’s an upside buried beneath this CONCACAF Champions League rubble?

I mean, gas prices are ridiculous! Think of all the money you’ll save on petrol without more of those bothersome trips into Carson to watch Champions League matches ahead.

Ahem.

We all believed the Galaxy had been, as they are telling us about the newest Apple delight, “tastefully enhanced.”  Edson Buddle, just two years removed from his run at Major League Soccer’s scoring crown, had reinforced a front line already manned by famed Irishman Robbie Keane.

Then a midfield with David Beckham and Landon Donovan already on the case unexpectedly gets Brazilian stabilizer Juninho back? Are you kidding me? And with three-quarters of the league-leading defense returning for another brilliant stab at “frustrate and stifling,” this was clearly Major League Soccer’s version of the “1 Percent.”

Yes, this Omar Gonzalez injury was an inconvenient obstacle along the road to riches. But did we mention Beckham, Donovan, Buddle, Juninho and Keane?

But it’s looking more and more like we underestimated the Gonzalez factor. He was Major League Soccer’s 2012 Defender of the Year. And if there were any doubters last November, at the award’s announcement, that he was imminently deserving of the honor, there certainly shouldn’t be now.

The raw numbers speak volumes. In 27 of 34 league matches last year, the Galaxy either shut out its opposition or allowed just one measly goal. Got that? Only seven times last year in league matches did Bruce Arena’s men allow more than one goal.

Now it’s happened in all three Galaxy matches in 2012. They are 0-for-3 in allowing one or fewer. The scoreboard has registered 2, 3 and 3 against L.A.

As I like to say, “One could be a mistake. Two is starting to look like a trend. But three is definitely a problem.”

This is not about Josh Saunders, the semi-backup last year in Galaxy goal who took starter’s duty this go-round. This is about something bigger, about the faulty marking, about flagging midfield pressure on servers, about mistakes veterans shouldn’t be making.

And we’re learning this: A.J. DeLaGarza is a serviceable MLS center back, someone whose strength is multiplied generously when sitting alongside Gonzalez. But Gonzalez isn’t getting that knee brace off any time soon. And a defense shepherded by DeLaGarza just isn’t in the same class as a defense under Gonzalez’s watch.

Arena may soon need to think about pursuing defensive assistance. Stuffed to the brim in salary cap – they have to be, right – that might mean a trade. But none of the flashy Designated Players will soon be leaving sunny So Cal.

Or Sean Franklin could move into the middle, although he might be no better as a center piece than rookie Tommy Meyer or journeyman Andrew Boyens, the choices so far.

There is one other way to look at all this:

Mike Magee and Juninho blew glistening opportunities in last night’s loss to Toronto. Put those away and the season is looking about like everyone thought: the Galaxy would win, but win differently. Arena said the same thing late Wednesday. Either way, the days of coolly, consistently nursing home 1-0 or 2-1 wins are history.

The Galaxy, after all, was never overwhelming in their 2011 championship season; they were just smart and tough and damn near impossible to beat. They became masters at keeping the score down and then crossing the finish line first.

Bottom line: We all thought the Galaxy defense would be a problem, we just didn’t realize it would be “problem” in giant, screaming capital letters.

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