CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy let another two-goal lead slip away Wednesday night, this time at home against Major League Soccer's bottom side, and again missed a chance to leap into the top six in the Western Conference.
There's a lot that's going right – Zlatan Ibrahimovic is tallying nearly every game, Chris Pontius has been superb on the right flank, and LA are deadly when playing direct – but not enough to overcome repeated defensive errors and a penchant for losing the plot when it's time to kill off a game.
The Galaxy (6-7-4) would like to believe they can move past this as Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos return from Mexico's World Cup run and several players grow healthier – including Ola Kamara, Emmanuel Boateng and Sebastian Lletget – but who knows, really?
The time has come to turn the corner, and the prospect of fielding a first-choice XI for the first time all season is tantalizing, but only if LA can fix what ails them.
“We need to be better,” head coach Sigi Schmid said following the 2-2 Fourth of July draw with D.C. United (2-7-5) at StubHub Center. “We as a coaching staff need to work harder, because, obviously, what we're doing hasn't been enough at this stage, and we need to be better defensively.
“It doesn't matter how many more pieces we can add [with the dos Santos brothers' and others' returns], if we don't get better defensively, it's going to make it really tough for us.”
That's been a recurring theme all season, but three shutout wins over five games in late May and early June seemed to suggest the worst had passed. Then the Galaxy let a 3-1 lead disappear in a 3-3 draw last weekend at San Jose, and then D.C. rallied, claiming a point on Darren Mattocks' strike in the 85th minute.
“We're leading, winning, and we get a draw at the end,” said Ibrahimovic, who has netted seven goals in his last four starts. “I think we're repeating some basic mistakes, and we're getting punished for the mistakes we are doing. The opponents are taking use of our mistakes and, yeah, they get one chance, they score; they get a second, they score.
“It's a shame, because we should win this game, and if you win, 2-0 – or 3-1 [against the Earthquakes] – we should be in control, but we're not in control.”
LA have struggled to find their best game all year. Schmid and Galaxy brass reconstructed the roster during the offseason, struggled through lost an early-season injury crisis, then had to make ample adjustments when Ibrahimovic arrived at the end of March. It was June before what appears to be the right formation was discovered – a 3-5-2 that pairs Ibrahimovic with Kamara up front – and then a three-week break for the World Cup and a calf ailment for Kamara intervened.
A key stat: LA's four most important players – Ibrahimovic, the dos Santos brothers and Romain Alessandrini – have not been together on the field at any point all season.
Pontius has been big for LA with the dos Santoses gone and Alessandrini playing a more central role, and he's had a goal or assist in five straight games. His strike Wednesday was a beaut – “just caught it on the sweet spot,” he noted – and two of the three goals that were flagged offside, Pontius' 29th-minute rebound from Kamara's finish off the bench in the 82nd, probably should have counted.
Nobody in LA's locker room was happy about that, but there are bigger issues.
“I feel it's a little bit confusion in the field when we're doing things, and we're not so organized,” said Ibrahimovic, who stretched his leg around defender Oniel Fisher to net his 10th goal of the campaign. “Could be because we are conceding a goal, and then the positional game starts to go around, and we are not there as 100 percent focused. But it's easy to blame on a lot of things when you're not getting what you want, the win.”
Defender Dave Romney sees something else.
“It's kind of tough, because when we play direct, we're really successful, and we have guys up there who win balls,” he said. “We have Ibra, we have Chris Pontius, Ola – guys who win the first ball, and we get second balls, and we've created a lot of goals out of playing direct. The only problem is once we get those leads, we have to kind of slow the game down and play more possession. And we kind of fall in love sometimes with just playing direct, and that doesn't let us control the game and close out games, I guess.”
D.C. dominated possession in the second half Wednesday, with Yamil Asad and Luciano Acosta pushing an attack that increasingly put LA's defense on its heels. Schmid says LA too often has allowed foes to “resuscitate themselves and breathe life into their games.”
The dos Santos brothers arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and Schmid said he'd “see how things go the next few days in training” before determining if they'll play, or start, Saturday night at home against Columbus (10:30 pm ET | Full TV & Streaming Info).
“We have a lot of games to play ...,” Ibrahimovic said. “We need all the players we have, we need them fresh, we need them available, and some have been in the World Cup, some have been injured. Hopefully, we can have everybody [and the] coach has a lot of choices to choose who he choose to play. So let's see.”