CARSON, Calif. - While it's the time of the season that most teams have their starting teams pretty well set and are ironing out any wrinkles they might have while fighting to preserve their playoff positions, things are different these days with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Steve Sampson's squad is tinkering with the foundation of their success - defending. Sampson is making drastic tactical changes or personnel changes; in reality, the Galaxy back four has played very solidly, giving up very few genuine scoring opportunities during the run of play to opponents. But it's dead ball situations that the Galaxy has struggled with all year.
In the Galaxy's last two league games - their 2-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes last Saturday and the 3-2 victory against D.C. United the week before - all four goals they allowed came from dead ball situations. The trend really dates back to the beginning of the season and it hasn't gone unnoticed by coaches or players.
"It is a concern because obviously that can cost us in the playoffs," said veteran defender Tyrone Marshall. "I think we're going to work out the kinks in the armor."
The main problem has been a tactical change in the way the team is defending set pieces this year. The Galaxy coaching staff implemented a zone defense in the box, but players are losing track of runners. Even though it's so late in the season, head coach Steve Sampson feels that a change is necessary in order to fix the problem.
"Maybe we have to mix up the system just a little bit. Maybe go with a combination of man-to-man and zone marking," said the Galaxy boss. "And I take responsibility for that. I think there's enough responsibility to go around. The bottom line is we've got to sort it out going forward."
Yet if the problem isn't a new one, why was it not fixed earlier in the season? At the beginning of the campaign, the Galaxy were one of the most potent attacking teams in the league. The occasional defensive lapse wasn't as glaring as it is now that scoring has been down for the Green and Gold. Galaxy captain Pete Vagenas points to that as a possible explanation, but not an excuse.
"It's frustrating. Early on in the season we were scoring a lot, but we were giving up goals," Vagenas said. " We knew as a championship team, you need to get shutouts. It's something that we spend a lot of time on, and I can guarantee you that we're going to spend a lot more time on this weekend."
This weekend the Chicago Fire come to town, and the Galaxy back line will get a stern test again on set pieces. With big targets like Jim Curtin and Tony Sanneh in the box, it will be a large challenge for the Galaxy defenders to win the battles in the box and walk off the field with a shutout.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.