CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy's defense wasn't a whole lot better the first time under Dominic Kinnear's command than it was under Sigi Schmid's, even with a formational switch that bettered the team's comfort and confidence.
The Galaxy found positives in last weekend's 5-3 defeat at Toronto FC – most of all, rallying from a three-goal deficit to tie it up early in the second half – but nothing really changed. They gave up far too many goals, and far too many soft goals, lost their fourth straight road outing and watched their nearly two-month winless streak reach seven games.
The playoffs are nearly out of their grasp, and only Orlando City SC (66) and San Jose Earthquakes (61), the teams at the bottom of the conference standings, have conceded more goals than LA have. Kinnear switched back to the 4-2-3-1 alignment the Galaxy used the first half of the season to make the defensive task a bit less thorny after surrendering five goals at Seattle and six at Real Salt Lake.
Did returning to a four-back system help in any way?
“We gave up five,” Kinnear, who became interim coach when Schmid departed early last week, said following the Galaxy’s training session Thursday at StubHub Center. “We didn't defend crosses very well. That was a problem. We didn't defend the penalty area very well, and that doesn't matter if you have five at the back or six at the back. You have to be responsible for picking up players and protecting the dangerous areas, and we did it at times, and we didn't do it at times. And every time we didn't do it, they punished us.
“Four [defenders], five, three? It doesn't matter,” he added. “More important, you have the awareness to attack the ball.”
Mistakes in midfield and by backliners Jorgen Skjelvik, Dave Romney and Rolf Feltscher contributed to TFC goals. But the players, for the most part, believe they were better in the formation than in the 3-4-1-2 Schmid employed most of the summer.
“I think the guys are more comfortable with four in the back. It's more natural,” defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen said. “The 3-5-2, 5-3-2, whatever you want to call it, can be a great formation, but I think that takes a lot of time to develop and jell. But we gave up five goals, so it's hard to say that it felt better, this and that. It's still the same result.”
It's a combination of individual lapses at critical moments and sloppy team play all over the field. The Galaxy too often concede possession too easily, leading to quick counterattacks that put their defense on its heels, and are inconsistent in pressuring the ball higher up the field.
“We keep hammering home the points we make in training, in film, in meetings: just in being in the right place at the right time,” Kinnear said. “But also, when the ball turns over, are we alert enough to the situation where it doesn't become an emergency situation?
“Last week at 3-3, we had four or five instances where we had the ball in [Toronto's] half of the field, and we easily gave it away, and the momentum kind of swung away. I think it's important when we have the ball, you have to make the other team work hard to get it back.”
Romney, usually a wingback or outside back this year, started in the middle against the Reds.
“There's been a lot of individual mistakes of just straight defending,” he said. “Whether it's me or someone else, it's not being strong enough at the right time or mentally lapsing. It's just been frustrating. I'm not proud of the way I'm playing, if I'm being frank.
“You're obviously going to have turnovers, you're obviously going to have guys making mistakes further up the field, and it's our job to put out those fires. I don't think we've done good enough putting those fires out.”
The Galaxy's injury troubles haven't helped. Schmid rarely was able to use a first-choice lineup, and there often are changes at three or more positions from game to game. LA play like a team who haven’t found themselves, and that hurts confidence.
“We've shifted our back line nearly every single game,” Romney said. “We're just shifting everyone over, just kind of patching holes everywhere. Rather than getting a streak of, like, eight games where we're playing the same back line every single game. That's when you really start jelling, you really start thinking for other players, knowing what they're going to do.
“The thing is, once we give up one goal, you can see the guys' heads going down. It's affecting everyone,” he noted. “Guys are working hard, it’s more of a confidence thing ... I don't know. If I had the answers, we wouldn't be losing.”