"Team-first" mentality helping LA cope with stars' absences

Bruce Arena

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CARSON, Calif. — The way the LA Galaxy are playing lately, they don't need to rely on Landon Donovan and David Beckham to grind out results.

Last weekend, they were without both Designated Players and still throttled Colorado at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Once again, the team showed what matters is not who is absent but rather who is on the field. Star players, after all, don’t come first.

“We try to always put the team first in everything we do — in training, in lineups, with all of that,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “When you’re missing a piece, let’s be fair, we’re not always replacing the players we lose with the same kind of quality but everyone understands what we’re trying to do as a team. They know their tactical responsibilities. They know their roles. That’s half the battle in trying to get some results.”

Beckham leads LA in assists and is one of the league’s most dangerous players on set pieces, but he has missed four of the team’s 18 games. Donovan leads the league in goals with eight and is closing in on the third spot in the league’s all-time goal-scoring chart. He has been gone for seven games.

Last Saturday, the Galaxy were without both Beckham and Donovan for the second time this season. The first time that happened, LA beat Chicago 2-1 on April 17, breaking the two-goal mark for the first time in 2011. Then they scored a season-high total on the road without them in Colorado.

“We have a deep team," defender Sean Franklin said. “Everyone showed up and played well against Colorado. That’s a big win for us.”

Both will be missing again on Saturday as the Galaxy travel north to face San Jose in the California Clasico (6:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer). Donovan will be busy representing the US in the Gold Cup final, while Beckham is unlikely to play due to continuing back spasms.

How the Galaxy have played without Beckham and Donovan, however, particularly against the Rapids, shows the true inner-workings of the team and what makes it strong.

“That speaks volumes about the depth of this team and the way we handle trainings and our reserve coaches and Bruce for getting everyone ready and getting everyone’s minds right,” midfielder Mike Magee said. “A lot of times, when you have new guys come into the lineup and you’re playing without your two top players, you tend to have letdowns and guys come in who aren’t fit, who aren’t confident or ready to play, and we showed that everyone can play.”

With Beckham and Donovan on the field, it may make players feel confident knowing they have an ace on their side. But without them, the tendency might be to worry that things might not go right. The Galaxy have learned how to deal with their absences, though.

“As a player, it makes you want to play well,” Franklin said. “Most teams are like, ‘OK, you know, some of their best players are out. It seems like they might struggle.’ That’s kind of like motivation for us for guys to step in and play well. Guys have been doing that all year.”

As long as the Galaxy continue to pull out results while their top guns are away, teams’ perceptions are changing.

“Teams think now that [we] are a deep team whether this guy is missing or Landon is missing or someone is missing,” Franklin said. “It just shows that our team is prepared for anything, to come in at any time and play well.”