CARSON, Calif.—It was a result nobody saw coming. It was a wake-up call for the defending MLS Cup champion L.A. Galaxy and one that forces the team to take a hard look at itself and come up with answers.
The Portland Timbers scored five goals in the second half and hammered the Galaxy 5–2 for their first ever win at StubHub Center this past Sunday.
It was supposed to be a day of celebration for the Galaxy in their last home game of the season—fan appreciation day including a special address from defender Todd Dunivant, who has provided dedicated service to the team since 2009.
But, in a game that was a tale of two halves, L.A. suffered only its second home loss of the season. They used to have the best home record in the league.
L.A. dominated the first half, but only had a 1–0 lead to show for it. Portland stormed out in the second half and took a 3–1 lead in the span of a nine-minute stretch.
Galaxy captain Robbie Keane scored his second goal of the game to make it 3–2, but a minute later, Portland made it 4–2. To add insult to injury, Maxi Urruti made it 5–2 in stoppage time with a goal that made the Galaxy defense look silly.
Losing the Physical Battle
Bruce Arena’s team came out a distant second in the physical battles that demonstrate a team’s desire to win.
“They just thoroughly dominated us in a physical nature more than anything,” Arena said. “It wasn’t tactical. It wasn’t anything more than I thought their desire to win that game and fight and work was much greater than ours.”
He was disappointed with his team and was delayed in starting his brief press conference due to, among other things, a bit of a team pep talk after the game.
Arena described the talk as, “a little bit more [pointed], but not a whole lot more.” He said he clearly gave his team “a couple of things to think about.”
Steven Gerrard, who knows what it’s like to play in front of one of the best fan bases in international football said, “The manager has had a go at us and rightly so; it’s not good enough, especially at home in front of our supporters.”
Despite the initial doom and gloom environment in the Galaxy locker room, Gerrard didn’t find the loss troubling. In his three months with the club, he has gotten to know the quality of the Galaxy squad that has won three MLS Cups in four years.
“I know these players well enough and that we’re capable of bouncing back,” Gerrard said.
“To a man: Not good enough. We all have to look at ourselves this week,” summarized Gerrard.
Defender Omar Gonzalez, who got schooled by Darlington Nagbe for the Timbers’ fourth goal, believes the team can bounce back in Kansas City this Sunday and still achieve their objective of finishing second behind FC Dallas in the MLS’s Western Conference.
“He [Arena] just gave it to us straight. It was a disappointing day. He expects better from us and we all expect better from ourselves,” Gonzalez said.
He agreed with Gerrard that the loss isn’t troubling even if it comes so close to the start of the playoffs.
“It’s in our hands, we can go to Kansas City and play as hard as we can and get the result that we need,” said Gonzalez.
The Galaxy want to finish second and have a first-round bye in the playoffs.
When a champion puts forth a disappointing performance, it has to look within and not feel sorry for itself. Keane, who scored with a fantastic volley in the first half said, “At this stage of the season we can’t feel sorry for ourselves.
“It’s important now to move on as quickly as possible.”
The Galaxy still have to be considered among the preeminent favorites for MLS Cup having retooled their squad, replacing the likes of Landon Donovan and David Beckham with Gerrard and Gio dos Santos.
Arena is embarking on a well-known road trip albeit with a different super-car. He has to be more attentive with it in sharp corners, but he knows it normally has heart-stopping acceleration on familiar roads, such as the home field of Stub Hub Center.
In the end, it was just one of those rare days for L.A. Galaxy. It wasn’t the way they wanted to end their season in front of their home fans, but the playoffs are just around the corner and this game could soon just become an asterisk in their history. All can be smoothed over with a good performance in Kansas City.
The Portland wake-up call could also be a good thing for the Galaxy who ooze experience and winning. It’s time to see how a proven winner deals with a setback.
“The good thing about football is there’s always another game,” said Keane.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports