Simple things fueling LA Galaxy’s big playoff turnaround

1 Comment

CARSON, Calif. — It turns out one week is an eternity in Major League Soccer. As the sole evidence of this highly scientific observation, we present the LA Galaxy.

One week ago, the defending MLS champions were walking off the carved up green of Home Depot Center having failed to take advantage of home field. They were on their way to Santa Clara carrying a 1-0 deficit after late errors gifted the Earthquakes’ Victor Bernardez the series-opening goal. One website (author’s note: this one) previewed the second leg by saying, “it’s hard to see a way through here for the Galaxy.” It wasn’t a controversial prediction.

But something happened on LA’s way to the offseason. They woke up. Bruce Arena’s team scored three first half goals in Santa Clara and sent the Supporters’ Shield winners packing. Add in Sunday’s 3-0 drubbing of the higher-seeded Seattle Sounders, and the Galaxy are back to their championship-prowling selves.

So what happened? How did the Galaxy go from near-extinction to stream rolling some of the league’s best teams?

“I think we needed a kick up the backside, and probably [the San Jose loss] was it,” David Beckham said, thinking back to the team’s mindset after last Sunday’s loss.

“Before the San Jose game away, our movement and our fitness maybe wasn’t as good,” Beckham conceded. “But I think we’ve picked it up. We realized to go all the way in this competition, we have to pick it up … We’ve brought out standards higher.”

For defender Todd Dunivant, Bernardez’s goal was almost a blessing – a wakeup call. Combined with San Jose’s passive posture to start the first leg in Santa Clara, the deficit gave LA license to jump on the front foot.

“[Bernardez’s goal] kind of propelled us,” Dunivant said.”It changes the whole mindset of the series. San Jose suddenly goes in not as aggressive. Maybe they’re just trying to protect the lead and not lose the game, and now we’re the aggressors.”

According to Dunivant, that posture has changed from the sluggish, lackluster side that gave up as many goals as they scored in their first two playoff games. Over their last two matches, LA has outscored their opponents 6-1.

“We’ve been aggressive, and we’ve taken our chances when they’re there,” Dunivant said. “We sensed the opportunity tonight.”

The biggest example of that has been Los Angeles’s suddenly unstoppable counter attack. On Wednesday, Tommy Meyer set Landon Donovan lose on San Jose, the Galaxy captain hitting Robbie Keane for the series’ winning goal. Against Seattle, it was Keane’s turn to orchestrate, feeding Sean Franklin behind the defense, LA’s right back setting up Mike Magee for the night’s second goal.

“Quick movement and quick counter attack and transitions,” Keane cites, asked to explain LA’s turnaround. “We have clever players in the team that could cause any team problems … If we keep the ball, keep it moving quickly, we’re a very hard team to play against.”

The quick movements, the sharp decisions on the ball – they weren’t there before Los Angeles departed for San Jose. Whatever the reason – fatigue, lack of focus, the need for a kick up the backside – Los Angeles was not playing like MLS champions. But with their back against the wall at Buck Shaw Stadium, things changed.

“When you play quite a few games in a short space of time, you become a little bit stale, a little bit tired,” Beckham explained. “We had that in the first game against San Jose. We’d come off a tough game against Vancouver, scraped through in that one, then [came] up against a San Jose team that was very strong.

“I think we recovered a lot better than [San Jose]. I said it that day after the game … Leading into the second one, we were ready … Our confidence was up, and it showed … It showed in this game as well.”

There haven’t been any tactical revelations. There’s been no shakeup to the lineup, no emotional pleas from the coaching staff or captain. Chalk it up to whatever you want – aggression, movement, a wakeup call – LA’s just playing better. They’re playing harder. They’re executing.

Sometimes, the most obvious answer is the right one.

“There’s never any secrets,” head coach Bruce Arena quips, asked to explain his team’s turnaround. “I’d like to tell you that we have a lot of [secrets] and we pulled them out for this. Just playing well and obviously scoring goals and being a lot more solid defensively. Just overall, we’re playing better.”

And as Bruce Arena sees it, LA’s only getting better:

“The 90 (minutes) in San Jose was good, and tonight was more complete. I think we were a little sloppy in the last 15 minutes in San Jose. Tonight was better, so that’s encouraging.”

Lukaku coy on Everton future, says “decision has already been made”

lex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Romelu Lukaku has made it no secret that he hopes to play Champions League football, and reality may be setting in that the opportunity to do so won’t come at Everton.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break during Ireland match ]

While the Belgium international hasn’t dealt his hand in regards to his future at Goodison Park, it seems as though the Toffees could be losing out on keeping their star striker.

[ MORE: UEFA qualifying roundup — Wales in trouble, Buffon hits 1000 ]

Last month, agent Mino Raiola claimed that Lukaku’s deal with the English side was 99.9 percent complete, however, the 23-year-old has still yet to ink a new contract.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s UEFA World Cup qualifier against Greece, Lukaku says that his future plans are already made up.

“The decision has already been made so I can’t talk about that,” Lukaku said of his future at Everton.

The former Anderlecht standout has had nothing but success since joining Everton, first on loan and then making a permanent transfer from Chelsea in 2014. Over the combined stints, Lukaku has bagged 83 goals in all competitions for the Toffees, but the young attacker says there’s nothing wrong with having “ambition.”

“There is nothing wrong with ambition. You have to embrace it and where you are as a footballer,” Lukaku said. “I’ve made a long way until now but the road is still long and I know I have to improve and get better. I want to help Everton as much as I can, as well as the national team. I think a lot of stuff can be achieved.

“Sometimes people will mistake things that I say but it’s just ambition that I have; I want to win titles and trophies and I don’t think people should take that as arrogance — people should embrace it.

“This is what footballers need to achieve if they want to become the best, and I think young kids need to learn that too.”

Making sense out of USMNT’s emphatic win over Honduras

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the lead up to Friday night’s clash at Avaya Stadium, the U.S. Men’s National Team was faced with a must-win scenario. What came next though was a bit more shocking than most U.S. Soccer supporters could have possibly imagined.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s win over Honduras ]

An emphatic 6-0 scoreline was how it finished in San Jose, California as the USMNT took down Honduras to lift itself out of the cellar of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but it’s how Bruce Arena’s side picked up the result that was so impressive.

After an extended layoff that began in the final months of the 2016 Major League Soccer season, Clint Dempsey has returned to both club and country with a vengeance following Friday’s performance. The artist formerly known as “Deuce” recorded a hat-trick in a span of 22 minutes to solidify an already convincing American lead, leaving Dempsey just two goals shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time USMNT scoring record (57).

Dempsey wasn’t the only bright spot though, as Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore and most notably, Christian Pulisic, turned in stellar performances that really left Honduras with no chance to find its rhythm in the match.

The 18-year-old Pulisic continues to be the talk of the town when it comes to the USMNT, and rightfully so given his club situation. There’s never been a U.S. talent succeeding at a club as big as Borussia Dortmund at such a young age, and Pulisic’s effort against Los Catrachos proved further that the young attacker could be the playmaker the Yanks have been looking for since Donovan’s retirement.

Meanwhile, another player that turned in a great performance was Jozy Altidore, and probably not for the reasons you’d normally think. The Toronto FC striker didn’t get on the scoresheet, however, it was Altidore’s hold-up play and vision that helped the U.S. dominate Honduras.

Altidore has long been a staple of the American attack, and an important one at that with his 37 international goals, which ranks third all-time for the U.S.. If the 27-year-old is able to replicate more performances like Friday night though, that makes the Stars and Stripes significantly more dangerous because of Altidore’s duel-threat ability.

The lone area the U.S. will look to clean up heading into Tuesday’s important qualifying match against Panama will be some of the team’s defensive letdowns. Jorge Villafana turned in a strong performance in his WCQ debut at left back, while veteran Omar Gonzalez had several moments of weakness in the heart of the American backline.

The Pachuca defender was caught out of position on several occasions and gave the ball away at times as well, but fortunately for the U.S., Honduras was unable to capitalize on those errors.

Overall though, the U.S. did exactly what it needed… and then some. The three points was all Arena’s group could have hoped for from the start after lackluster performances against Mexico and Costa Rica back in November, but adding six goals could certainly help down the road as well if goal differential becomes a key factor in the Hexagonal.

It’s difficult to say the U.S. is back because that’s a relative phrase that can be interpreted in numerous ways. The USMNT put in a stellar performance, albeit without key players like Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin defensively, while Bobby Wood and Jermaine Jones are two others that didn’t feature.

[ MORE: Three takeaways from USMNT’s emphatic win on Friday night ]

Only time will tell when it comes to how this team gels over an extended period of time, but it was certainly a dream start for the Americans as Arena Part Deux continues.

Up next, Panama.

Chastain, MacMillan inducted into US Soccer Hall of Fame

Mike McGregor/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Brandi Chastain looked at the assembled crowd in a tent under the rain and addressed former coach Tony DiCicco, who had just introduced her at the induction ceremony for the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame.

[ MORE: USMNT smashes six past Honduras in CONCACAF WCQ ]

“Thank you, not just for today but for every day that you gave me the chance to play for the women’s national team, and for having the confidence in me and the guts to tell me I wasn’t going to be a forward,” she said.

Chastain, a forward on the 1991 World Cup champions and a left back whose penalty kick won a shootout for the 1999 title, was inducted Friday night along with midfielder Shannon MacMillan, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion three years later.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s win over Honduras ]

The ceremony was held before the U.S. men played Honduras in a World Cup qualifier.

Remembered most for pulling off her shirt after her World Cup-winning goal and celebrating in a sports bra, Chastain grew up in San Jose and talked about her early days playing youth soccer in the area, starting with the Quakettes. After winning her first World Cup title, she was left off the 1995 roster. She revived her career as a defender.

“Change is good. Though, scary, it’s good. And I think we would all benefit from seeing change as an opportunity for growth and development, and for a new adventure,” she said.

Now 38, Chastain scored 30 goals in 192 international appearances and also won a pair of Olympic gold medals. MacMillan, 42, had 60 in 176 international games.

“It was always such a massive honor that gave me chills every time I walked in that locker room, whether it was my first cap, my 100th cap or my last cap,” MacMillan said. “It was something that I never took for granted.”

Soccer America’s Paul Kennedy was given the Colin Jose Media Award.

The Hall’s building in Oneonta, New York, closed in 2010 and a new Hall is being built in Frisco, Texas.

Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo
Leave a comment

MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

[ USMNT: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.