Tutino's Take: A game of firsts
for the Galaxy's scorers.
"I think we improved; we're still far from where we need to be, but I think we improved. I think [Steve] Cronin played quite well today," said Galaxy head coach Steve Sampson. "This is his first league win. Kyle Veris, in his debut, played well in the back, so the young players who had to play well did."
A new lineup and plan of attack came with the Galaxy's debut of their new road kits. Steve Cronin got the start in goal for Kevin Hartman. Hartman was given a day off and for Cronin it was a chance to get comfortable in a real game environment. Herculez Gomez returned to the lineup at right wing and Marcelo Saragosa got the call at defensive midfield.
The Galaxy went with a 4-3-3 formation with Saragosa and Pete Vagenas playing side by side. Landon Donovan was the attacking midfielder and the front line was old school with two wingers and a center forward featuring Gomez, Cornell Glen and Nagamura. In the back, Ugo Ihemelu and rookie Kyle Veris anchored the middle with Chris Albright and Todd Dunivant in their customary right and left back slots. For Veris, it was a nice debut as a pro.
RSL struck first, stinging the Galaxy on a counter up the right side as Jeff Cunningham allowed a pass to go through him and on to the path of Andy Williams, who slotted a ball across Cronin's six yard box to a sliding Jason Kreis, who sent it home. Six minutes in and things began to look bad for the visitors. Real Salt Lake was attempting to snap a 16 game winless streak and might have caught the Galaxy just at the right time. The defending champs haven't looked the part through the first month and maybe, just maybe, they were ripe for the picking.
Five minutes later that thought went out the window, and the only picking was being done by Landon Donovan, who picked the pocket of Eddie Pope and deposited a shot to the near corner, leveling the game at 1-1.
"I saw Carey Talley winding up to play [the ball] across, and I figured if I could at least get to [Eddie Pope], you never know what could happen, you might have a chance," said Donovan. "On the turf, it is tough. It took a little bounce up on him, and I put my foot out kind of hoping to get it and sure enough, the ball just bounced in front of me. My second touch was good, and the finish was fairly easy after that."
My first thought was, "Eddie you can't do that in June when you wear the Stars and Stripes at the World Cup in Germany." But, as the game wore on, it was more and more clear to me that with RSL, this Pope needs more than the Conclave of Cardinals to help him out. He'll have that help when Team USA hits the pitch in a month or so.
Quickly the tide turned in favor of the Galaxy. Cobi Jones, who was expected to come on in the second half, was called in to service just prior to the Donovan goal, replacing the injured Pete Vagenas. Jones went to the left wing position. Paulo Nagamura took over for Vagenas at defensive mid. At the 26th minute, Cobi got on the end of an Albright cross and the Galaxy were off and running, leading 2-1.
Donovan performed a little more magic in the second half, launching Gomez on a breakaway. Herc shook off some rust, scoring the goal and notching his first of the season to make it 3-1 Galaxy. I have seen strainers with fewer holes than the RSL defense.
Real got one back in the 74th as youngster Atiba Harris powered home a low cross at the near post, and for a time the Galaxy looked shaky as they worked to secure the result and a much needed three points.
This wasn't a textbook win for the Galaxy. It could be said it was a test of their will. They gave up an early goal, lost their captain to a concussion and adding more salt to the wound lost Cornell Glen in the first half with a hamstring injury. Glen is done for the Galaxy until after the World Cup. Here's hoping he'll be able to represent his native Trinidad & Tobago next month. The Galaxy kept battling and for Donovan, Jones and Gomez it marked the return of the trifecta that led to the L.A. double in 2005. Welcome back boys.
MAN OF THE MATCH...Landon Donovan. A goal and two helpers ain't bad kid. You might know how to play this game.
THE KINGDOM...Real Salt Lake has picked up this nickname for their home. Apparently the folks in Salt Lake feel the club name is regal and so Kingdom fits. I'd call it the Kingdom of the Misfits. Coach John Ellinger's resume says he has tremendous experience with young Americans, but I'm not sure his message is sinking in with some of his veterans.
Ellinger pulled both Jeff Cunningham and Andy Williams at the break citing sarcastically in his post game press conference that he was in search of "just more offense." Mind you, it was those two players that set up their first half goal.
To me the problem in Salt Lake is their defense. Eddie Pope is great. Eddie Pope is not four guys. Nobody is. And it's not just the back three or four depending on which half you watched or heard. Scott Garlick is a serviceable goalkeeper behind a great defense. Behind this defense, he's surrendered 11 goals in five games. This kingdom is a lot of rubble for now.
THE ROAD TRIP CONTINUES... It's on to New England this week for the Galaxy. Los Angeles has a chance to take back the three points lost in the opener to the Revs. It's never easy playing at Gillette Stadium, but then again, The Home Depot Center is not an easy place for the visitors.
A NEW FEATURE...In our never ending pursuit of raising the bar of the English radio broadcasts, Ridge Mahoney of Soccer America Magazine joins me live every halftime for all the latest in MLS and Team USA news. Hope you enjoy.
Joe Tutino is in his eighth season as the English radio voice of the Los Angeles Galaxy. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author's, and not necessarily those of the Los Angeles Galaxy or Major League Soccer.