CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy have been more or less unstoppable since Landon Donovan returned from the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Robbie Keane from injury a month or so ago, driving a dynamic attack that netted three or four goals in three of four MLS matches last month – plus three more in the friendly victory over defending Italian Serie A champions Juventus.
LA attack quickly, usually from a counterattack, and often beautifully with their two biggest stars running things, but their absences last weekend for World Cup qualifying duty exposed the two-time defending MLS Cup champions' most significant weakness: When Donovan and Keane are gone, the Galaxy attack is, at best, ordinary.
The depth behind the front two is young, inconsistent and with very different qualities, and it forces LA to alter how they attack, hardly a simple equation.
“I think as a whole team, we depend on [international players] a little too much, and it shows,” said forward Jose Villarreal, who partnered fellow teenager Jack McBean up top in last weekend's 1-0 loss to visiting Colorado. “I think that we were lost and used to [midfielders] playing balls up to Landon and Keane, and I'm not Keane and Jack isn't Landon.
“These guys are very good players, and we depend on them a little too much, and this is what happens when we do.”
Keane and Donovan have combined for 20 goals and 17 assists in MLS play this year – Keane has played in 16 of 27 league games, Donovan in 17 – and they totaled a dozen goals and five assists in LA's previous five competitive matches.
Are the Galaxy overly reliant on their two big names?
“Are the Miami Heat overly reliant on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade?” associate head coach Dave Sarachan said. “There's a drop-off on every level [without them]. ... The next group is good, but are they good enough? It's a challenge. I think we're capable, but we haven't shown it yet in terms of being consistently goal-dangerous when they're not here.”
The Galaxy no longer have a Chad Barrett or Edson Buddle, Jovan Kirovski or Pat Noonan – experienced players who could step in when the big guns were gone.
Villarreal, who turned 20 on Tuesday, has promise, and he's scored some big and brilliant goals, but he's inconsistent. McBean, 18, is still finding his form in limited appearances after missing a couple of months this year with a broken collarbone.
Rookie Gyasi Zardes, who has seen the most time up front among the reserves, is playing on the left flank these days. Rookie Charlie Rugg has played in just four MLS games – he came on for McBean in the second half against Colorado – and Chandler Hoffman hasn't yet made his league debut for LA.
There is confidence they can get the job done, but they need more experience to do so. There's only so many minutes available to get that experience when Donovan and Keane are around.
“The challenge with young players is they're actually learning on the clock,” Sarachan said. “It's not going to be perfect for a variety of reasons. They're not getting consistent minutes, and they now have to adjust to a quicker game and all the rest, so it is a work in progress.”