The battle of the set pieces went against the LA Galaxy again Sunday afternoon, leading them to a 1-0 defeat in a critical Western Conference showdown at rainy Portland that kills any realistic hopes to claim the Supporters' Shield and leaves them just four points clear in the playoff chase with four games to go.
The Galaxy (13-11-6) had the better of play and far more opportunities than did the Timbers, but the game revolved around Maximiliano Urruti's cheeky finish on a 52nd-minute corner kick. It felt a little too much like déjà vu.
LA have conceded 13 goals from set pieces this year, six from corner kicks, and it has cost them valuable points in the tightest playoff chase in MLS history. They realize things have to change.
“It's a mentality. Defensive set pieces is solely a mentality: who wants the ball more,” Landon Donovan, who returned to the Galaxy lineup after two weeks out with a sprained ankle but struggled to be effective in the run of play, told reporters in Portland. “Too often guys have let down in that area. So either you change who's marking or people don't play if they can't do that. Sort of the harsh reality, but that's the way it has to be. You can't keep giving up goals like that.”
Said captain Robbie Keane: “Forget about tactics and all that stuff, it's about desire and commitment to go and win the ball. At this moment in time, the other teams have just probably more desire than we have to try and defend set pieces.”
The Galaxy aren't built for set pieces -- the only size they have is with rookie winger Gyasi Zardes and with Omar Gonzalez and, on Sunday, rookie Kofi Opare in central defense -- but they're concerned with how many they're conceding, and how those many are being conceded.
Urruti had an unimpeded run to the inside edge of the 6-yard box at the left post, with Sean Franklin shadowing every step, and he stuck his right leg up to connect with Will Johnson's low cross. He made contact with the outside of his foot, splitting goalkeeper Jaime Penedo and Donovan, who was guarding the left post, en route to the net.
“We got beat by a set piece again, so that's not good,” Gonzalez said. “I think [we need] just ... I don't know, being tighter on the guy you're marking and just wanting it more. I know we've been saying that over and over again, and we still keep on seeing mistakes happen.
“Maybe just foul the guy. Do anything you can to not let the guy get a goal and hope that the red doesn't call a PK. I mean, we've got to be more aggressive.”
Scott French covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com.