When Steve Sampson was hired midseason as the new head coach by the Los Angeles Galaxy, general manager Doug Hamilton said he thought it was his team's best chance to win this season. And while the Galaxy have shown a consistent style of play both offensively and defensively, the results have been slow to follow.
The Galaxy now find themselves in a do-or-die situation heading into the final leg of their home-and-home Western Conference Semifinal series against the Colorado Rapids trailing by one goal on aggregate. A result is exactly what is needed from Los Angeles this Saturday at The Home Depot Center -- which could be viewed as a tall order for an attack still struggling to find its identity under a new system of play.
A sports axiom is that defense comes around a lot more quickly when a new coach and a new system of play is introduced. The Galaxy know there is a lot of work still to be done, but all agree that the defense has been playing well.
"We're a difficult team to break down," said striker Jovan Kirovski. "It's not easy to score on us like it was in the past."
The numbers support that analysis. Kevin Hartman posted two of his seven shutouts this year down the stretch, and the defense hasn't given up more than one goal in any contest in more than a month. But with a team that has been struggling to score, that has also meant a number of 1-0 losses -- just as in the first-leg loss in Denver.
In Friday's game at Invesco Field at Mile High, Los Angeles once again created more chances, but failed to find the back of the net, due in large part to the outstanding play of Colorado 'keeper Joe Cannon. The lone goal came from a brief lapse in the Galaxy defense, unable to clear a ball bouncing around the penalty area, the result the advantage the Rapids are carrying to southern California.
Still, Los Angeles is confident about their chances in Sampson's new system. Sasha Victorine, who has seen time in both the Galaxy back four as well as in wide midfield and striking roles in recent weeks, says a breakthrough is just around the corner.
"With Sampson's system and how he wants us to play, I think we can be dangerous enough to put some pressure on them and create some chances," he said.
The trick will be finishing the chances that they create this weekend. The learning curve can be a steep one for any team, and Galaxy original Cobi Jones -- who has seen several coaches in L.A. -- knows this situation is no different.
"We're still working out a few things. You start expanding on it," Jones said. "It's kind of a rush situation given he's (Sampson) only been here a month or two and it's playoff time already."
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.