Deconstructing the Galaxy downfall; defense a glaring issue

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Chin up, Galaxy fans, the sun will rise tomorrow. Not all is so grim in AEG Valley. Surely, there’s an upside buried beneath this CONCACAF Champions League rubble?

I mean, gas prices are ridiculous! Think of all the money you’ll save on petrol without more of those bothersome trips into Carson to watch Champions League matches ahead.

Ahem.

We all believed the Galaxy had been, as they are telling us about the newest Apple delight, “tastefully enhanced.”  Edson Buddle, just two years removed from his run at Major League Soccer’s scoring crown, had reinforced a front line already manned by famed Irishman Robbie Keane.

Then a midfield with David Beckham and Landon Donovan already on the case unexpectedly gets Brazilian stabilizer Juninho back? Are you kidding me? And with three-quarters of the league-leading defense returning for another brilliant stab at “frustrate and stifling,” this was clearly Major League Soccer’s version of the “1 Percent.”

Yes, this Omar Gonzalez injury was an inconvenient obstacle along the road to riches. But did we mention Beckham, Donovan, Buddle, Juninho and Keane?

But it’s looking more and more like we underestimated the Gonzalez factor. He was Major League Soccer’s 2012 Defender of the Year. And if there were any doubters last November, at the award’s announcement, that he was imminently deserving of the honor, there certainly shouldn’t be now.

The raw numbers speak volumes. In 27 of 34 league matches last year, the Galaxy either shut out its opposition or allowed just one measly goal. Got that? Only seven times last year in league matches did Bruce Arena’s men allow more than one goal.

Now it’s happened in all three Galaxy matches in 2012. They are 0-for-3 in allowing one or fewer. The scoreboard has registered 2, 3 and 3 against L.A.

As I like to say, “One could be a mistake. Two is starting to look like a trend. But three is definitely a problem.”

This is not about Josh Saunders, the semi-backup last year in Galaxy goal who took starter’s duty this go-round. This is about something bigger, about the faulty marking, about flagging midfield pressure on servers, about mistakes veterans shouldn’t be making.

And we’re learning this: A.J. DeLaGarza is a serviceable MLS center back, someone whose strength is multiplied generously when sitting alongside Gonzalez. But Gonzalez isn’t getting that knee brace off any time soon. And a defense shepherded by DeLaGarza just isn’t in the same class as a defense under Gonzalez’s watch.

Arena may soon need to think about pursuing defensive assistance. Stuffed to the brim in salary cap – they have to be, right – that might mean a trade. But none of the flashy Designated Players will soon be leaving sunny So Cal.

Or Sean Franklin could move into the middle, although he might be no better as a center piece than rookie Tommy Meyer or journeyman Andrew Boyens, the choices so far.

There is one other way to look at all this:

Mike Magee and Juninho blew glistening opportunities in last night’s loss to Toronto. Put those away and the season is looking about like everyone thought: the Galaxy would win, but win differently. Arena said the same thing late Wednesday. Either way, the days of coolly, consistently nursing home 1-0 or 2-1 wins are history.

The Galaxy, after all, was never overwhelming in their 2011 championship season; they were just smart and tough and damn near impossible to beat. They became masters at keeping the score down and then crossing the finish line first.

Bottom line: We all thought the Galaxy defense would be a problem, we just didn’t realize it would be “problem” in giant, screaming capital letters.

Kane scores early and late, England narrowly top Tunisia

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England’s 2018 World Cup debut began brilliantly, then appeared headed for a disappointingly familiar outcome, but was ultimately saved by Harry Kane who scored both goals in the Three Lions’ 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday.

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England came sprinting out of the starting blocks — so quickly they nearly took flight — and taking an early lead through Harry Kane in the 11th minute (WATCH HERE). John Stones‘ header was spectacularly saved by Mouez Hassen, but Kane was in the right place at the right time and swept home the rebound for his first World Cup goal (on his World Cup debut).

The opening half-hour was all England, with the likes of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling cutting through the Tunisian midfield and defense with very little resistance and creating a half-dozen golden scoring chances. Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate‘s side, they couldn’t capitalize, and they were made to pay for it.

Kyle Walker caught Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with a raised arm as an innocuous cross came into the box, prompting referee Wilmar Roldan to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot immediately. Ferjani Sassi stepped up and converted, just out of reach of Jordan Pickford, who perhaps got a fingertip on the ball (WATCH HERE), to make it 1-1 and negate an otherwise dominant first-half performance by England. It would be Tunisia’s only shot on goal for the game.

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England’s best chance to re-establish a lead came during a six-yard-box scramble just seconds before halftime. Alli’s header hit the crossbar and Stones badly scuffed — nearly whiffed — on the follow-up. Kane was dragged to the ground during the rest of the commotion, to no interest of Roldan.

It took far longer than anyone back home in England would have liked, but Kane grabbed the winner in the 91st minute, heading home from acres of space at the back post. Jordan Henderson got the first crack at heading the corner kick, but it was blocked and bound high into the air. Somehow, some way, Kane was unmarked and snuck his redirect just inside the post.

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Up next for England is a meeting with Panama on Sunday, a day after Tunisia take on Belgium, who thrashed the Panamanians, 3-0, on Monday.

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

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England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

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How will England respond?

VIDEO: Captain Kane puts England on the board early

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It may be the easiest goal-scoring opportunity Harry Kane‘s ever had in an international competition, and he finished it as easy as you’d like.

Kane side-footed home after Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen made a terrific save on John Stone’s header off a corner, but the save was directed right into a wide-open Kane who was standing ready inside the six yard box. The 11th minute goal will surely settle some of the Three Lions’ nerves as they open their World Cup bid in Russia.

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After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

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But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.