CARSON, Calif. – With Major League Soccer’s spotlight focused solely on them on Friday, the Galaxy pulled a no-show. New York walked into the Home Depot Center for their highly anticipated matchup against Los Angeles and had their way with the hosts, coming away with a convincing 2-0 victory.
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Not even the game’s billing as the season’s biggest match was enough to give the Galaxy the shot in the arm they needed to play with utmost intensity.
“Our problem [on Friday was] just our effort,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. “It’s hard to wonder why, for a game like this, we weren't ready to come out and play.”
At the start of the match, the Galaxy seemed to have a strong edge in terms of atmosphere alone. A sold-out crowd greeted the teams when they took the field and a local band even played an up-tempo rock song to charge the crowd.
But the pregame antics did not add up to much for the Galaxy.
“The first half sets the tone of the game, and the first half wasn’t good for us,” said David Beckham, who played a full 90 minutes in his first start of the season. “We didn’t start well, didn’t pressure well. They kept the ball, we didn’t press them. When you start games like that, it’s tough going on from that.”
New York broke through in the 36th minute, when Dane Richards knocked in a rebound after Joel Lindpere rattled a shot off the post.
While the Galaxy came out a bit fired up in the second half, that edge did not last long. Richards drew a penalty kick and Juan Pablo Angel converted it in the 60th minute.
“The first half, we did a real poor job with our shape and, over the last 20 minutes, we gave them too much time with the ball,” said Arena. “The second half, we changed that around and had the game more on our terms, yet the second goal certainly put us in a real difficult position to try and get a result in the game.”
Aside from the two goals, midfielders Rafa Márquez, Tony Tchani and Lindpere played key roles for New York, making it difficult for the Galaxy’s own midfield to keep up.
But the malfunctioning midfield wasn't LA's only problem. The home side fielded an inexperienced pair in central defense – Leonardo and Yohance Marshall had a combined 10 games of MLS experience entering the game – as regulars Omar Gonzalez (suspension) and Gregg Berhalter (viral/neck ailments) were unavailable for the match.
“Our organization in the back in the first half wasn’t good enough,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “For us to expect those two guys [Leonardo and Marshall] to come in and not make any mistakes, we’d have to be kidding ourselves.
“What can you do about it? There’s nothing we can do about it. Those are the options we had.”
Those options proved costly for Los Angeles.
The loss, in the end, was a consequence of mainly one reason: The Galaxy players just couldn’t understand each other on the pitch.
“Overall, from back to front, we were kind of unclear with what we were doing,” said Donovan. “There was no communication around the field. Our midfield got stretched and their midfield dominated us. Up front, we didn't have a real presence in the game.
“You have those three factors, [and] you're not going to win many games.”