CARSON, Calif. – After being so proficient during the David Beckham era, the LA Galaxy's difficulties on set pieces this season stem from far more than the departure of the world's greatest dead-ball specialist.
The Galaxy, who take on Vancouver at the StubHub Center on Saturday night (10:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live), haven't had the kind of service or shot from distance their former superstar provided, but they also haven't had the kind of movement they desire in opponents' boxes. Additionally, they lack aerial threats aside from Omar Gonzalez, and luck just hasn't gone their way.
That it's a problem at both ends, as the Portland Timbers illustrated so well in their victory last weekend over LA, is more troubling, and the Galaxy are emphasizing the need to be much better.
They've scored off corner kicks just twice this year – Robbie Keane's finish following a short corner in the season-opening romp over Chicago and Gyasi Zardes' looping header last month to beat Chivas USA – and not at all from a free kick. Foes aren't having such trouble.
Opposing runners slip their mark too often and the Galaxy have been passive defensively, and it's added up to nine goals against: two from corners (including George John's 87th-minute rebound to lift FC Dallas in April), four from free kicks (including Tim Cahill's stoppage-time winner for New York in May) and three from throw-ins.
“It's just a mentality,” defender A.J. DeLaGarza said. “You've got to get guys who are going to pout their bodies on the end of those crosses. Dive, scrap, whatever they've got to do inside the box. And on the [defensive] side, we've got to do everything – scrap, fight – to get the ball out of our box.”
Knowing and doing are different things. The Galaxy have created chances from dead balls – Juninho is responsible for most free kicks, and he and Landon Donovan have shared corner-kick duties – but haven't done much with them. Gonzalez headed a corner off the post against the Timbers, and Juninho had a free kick sailing toward the upper-right corner before the leaping Donovan Ricketts pawed it away.
Beckham's departure plays a big role.
“He was amazing with the dead ball,” said the 6-foot-5 Gonzalez, one of just two regulars (along with Zardes) with decent size. “Every single time he stepped to the ball, he could make something happen. But he's gone, and we've got great, talented players [still here]. ... We've had a lot of chances, it's just teams are defending really well against us.”
Gonzalez usually faces a group of defenders on offensive set pieces, often aligned so he can't get to crosses no matter which way he spins.
“He can be the decoy, and he can be the end product,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan said. “We like him to be the end product. There are times he's just bottled up, so we need either guys in front of him making good runs to open space, or he's got to find space for himself, or he's got to be a decoy. For me, the key component to all this is mobility ... and we need to be a little more active and aggressive.”
Opponents have been much sharper in dead-ball situations.
“For the most part, we're just standing there and making it pretty easy [on offense],” DeLaGarza said. “Other teams are moving, setting picks, and doing all that kind of stuff and getting free.”
The Galaxy have been caught ball-watching in their box, and twice this year – on the vital second goal in New England's 5-0 rout last month and on Portland's first goal last weekend – they've been caught unaware when foes have quickly taken free kicks.
Said head coach Bruce Arena: “They all know their jobs and responsibilities. ... They're not doing their jobs.”
“We definitely need to be more alert, more concentrated on what's going on,” goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini said. “I think you probably see the same things in other teams as well, but they don't get punished. We always get punished for some reason.”