CARSON, Calif. – Carlo Cudicini has an inkling about what's wrong with the LA Galaxy and their current inability to close out games, a blight that has cost them three points in five league games and forced them out of the CONCACAF Champions League.
“Just wish the games were lasting 80 minutes – that would be fantastic,” the Italian goalkeeper said this week, his smile broadening. “Unfortunately, that is not the case.”
It's no laughing matter, to be sure, but the Galaxy don't believe they're in crisis either.
One thing or another, or an assortment of such things, has hit them late in nearly match over the past five weeks. Six of eight goals they've conceded in nine games have come after the 80th minute, costing them two wins and two draws.
They've lost three in a row – two in the CCL to Monterrey, which erased a deficit and took command of the semifinal series with two late goals in the first leg at the Home Depot Center, then last weekend at FC Dallas, which scored following an 87th-minute corner kick for a 1-0 triumph – and face Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City, who have posted five straight shutouts, on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“It's a little concentration, little bit of unlucky at times,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “But, really, concentration and taking care of business at the end of the game.”
There's plenty of blame to go around, from Omar Gonzalez (slow to react on Aldo de Nigris' winner in the first Monterrey match) to Leonardo (failed to deal with Carlos Borja's service for Carlos Alvarez's equalizer in last month's 1-1 draw with Chivas USA) to, well, just about everybody else (poor set-piece defending on George John's header to lift Dallas).
“It seems to change every single game,” Gonzalez said. “One game something goes wrong, then the next game we fix it and something else goes wrong. It just seems we're getting punished for every little thing.”
Seven of the eight goals surrendered – all but de Nigris' 81st-minute winner in the second leg against Monterrey, when the Galaxy were pushed forward needing a pair of goals to survive – have been the product of breakdowns somewhere on the field.
Two huge mistakes, a poor Leonardo pass and Cudicini's decision to race out of his box to try to track it down, cost LA the lead in Toronto three weeks ago, and the Reds took a 78th-minute lead on a counterattack when Luis Silva danced past Gonzalez and his ball toward the far post, redirected slightly by Jonathan Osorio, rolled past six Galaxy players en route to the net.
Collapses aside, LA have defended fairly well while building chemistry with a reconfigured backline, in which Leonardo stepped into the middle next to Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza moved to right back. They've conceded just 24 shots on goal in the nine games and just 11 in the five MLS matches. Four opponents have put only one or two shots on frame, and two more have just three.
“We've given up very few shots this year, very few chances," Landon Donovan said. "Unfortunately, when you don't do things right, sometimes you're made to pay for those things."
With Leonardo suspended following his red card in Dallas, LA could be back to their longstanding back four, with Gonzalez and DeLaGarza in the middle, Todd Dunivant on the left and Sean Franklin, in midfield most of this season, back at right back. That would help, even if the problems are, as Cudicini notes, “more a team problem, not a defense problem.”
How to solve the problem? Simple.
“You just do what you always do,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan said. “You train hard during the week. If the training's 50 minutes, then make sure in the 49th minute of training you're as good as you are when you start. It's a mental toughness that each player has to develop through repetition.
“Now that we've been burned a couple times, I would like to believe that when the clock strikes 80, alarm bells are going off with the individuals that have been punished in the past, [that they're] saying, 'Look, I've got to make sure that I don't lose my man and I don't ball-watch.' It's just getting more games and learning from your experiences. That's the key. And if you don't, you make changes.”