TORONTO -- The most concerning thing about the Galaxy's poor start to Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal opener is how familiar were the breakdowns.
A poorly handled corner kick and an inability to mark a runner on a cross provided Toronto FC a two-goal advantage after just 17 minutes, and although L.A. rallied for a dramatic 2-2 draw in the first leg at Rogers Centre, there was plenty of hand-wringing to follow.
“It was a real shaky start,” midfielder Mike Magee said. “Especially since our main goal was to let the game settle down in the first 15 minutes and try not to get their fans involved, so we definitely blew that.”
Magee took the blame for the first goal, saying he “should have done better,” that he “reacted late and headed it where I thought was out [of danger] and headed it straight to Ryan Johnson, who took it well.” Galaxy debutant Andrew Boyens owned up to the second goal, five minutes later, after letting rookie Luis Silva drift behind him to head home Torsten Frings' long cross: “I let my man get away from me.”
Major League Soccer's best defensive team last year conceded two or more goals six times in nine preseason games but needed just a fraction of game time to do so when it counted.
“It was our first time with the whole group, but that's no excuse for a corner-kick [goal] and not marking in the box. You can't use that as an excuse ...,” center back A.J. DeLaGarza said. “The same mistakes we've been doing in preseason. Corner kicks have been hurting us and not marking in the box.”
Todd Dunivant, the most experienced of Galaxy backliners, called the set-piece error “a recurring theme” and “something that we're certainly aware of and trying to fix.” The foundations to the mistakes aren't complicated: L.A. spent little time together, as a full team, during a shorter-than-normal preseason, and they're still figuring out how to defend at the back without middle man Omar Gonzalez, last year's MLS Defender of the Year.
“One of the things that was evident was we haven’t played together,” coach Bruce Arena said. “It’s going to take us some time. This is the first time we were able to put this group together on the field. It's going to take some time.”
Said Landon Donovan: “A team like Toronto now has been together for seven or eight weeks in preseason every day training together. We've had two semi-training sessions with our full team, and it makes it difficult.”
“You can see we have the makings of a very good team,” DeLaGarza noted, “but we have to put it together.”
Boyens earned strong marks after his error, and he's likely going to get the majority of minutes next to DeLaGarza as rookies Tommy Meyer and Bryan Gaul develop and Gonzalez and Leonardo recover from knee injuries. But the defensive approach that has guided the Galaxy during Arena's tenure -- the backbone to three straight Western Conference titles, back-to-back Supporters' Shields and last November's MLS Cup triumph -- needs fine-tuning.
“It's a mentality of knowing that we're not going to get scored on, which is something that we've had in the past and we've got to get back to,” said Dunivant, an MLS Best XI left back last year. “It's not an easy answer, but set pieces are an obvious one. … [Toronto's iurst goal was] another dead-ball situation, and we have to be a little bit better at those.”
Might it require a slightly different philosophy? The Galaxy's attack, on paper, is so good -- might this team outscore rivals rather than shut them down?
“We’ll see how it plays out,” Dunivant said. “Obviously, Omar is a big loss, but we’ve played without him before. We’ve done well without him before, and we’re going to have to do that again, there’s no doubt about it. We can’t be playing games where we have to score three goals in order to win games. That can’t be the way that we play, and it’s certainly not our intention. We’ll get it right.”
'A JOKE': Dutchman Danny Koevermans has played at an advanced level for more than a decade, starring in Holland for Sparta Rotterdam, AZ Alkmaar and PSV Eindhoven, plus a brief run with Netherlands' superstar-studded national team five years ago. He's seen plenty.
What he hasn't seen much of is a situation like that in the 58th minute, when, he says, Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders purposely cleated his upper leg. That angered the striker, who received a yellow card from Jamaican referee Courtney Campbell after confronting Saunders.
It wasn't just Saunders who made him mad.
“This referee, these CONCACAF referees, are such a joke,” he said in the postgame mixed zone. “So then he gave me a yellow card for my reaction. That's OK, but then he should give [Saunders] a yellow card, too, but he didn't do that. Stupid. I shouldn't do it, but [Saunders] shouldn't do that, too. Its unsporting.”
Koevermans said the officiating crew told him Saunders' actions were “in the game,” and he didn't like that.
“It’s a joke. It’s stupid. They were just a joke. Sometimes, it’s not good how they perform. They kept saying that ‘it’s in the game, it’s in the game,’ so if that’s in the game, then I showed [the gash on my leg] to him, then you need to make sure that it’s a yellow card for the keeper, too. I don’t want to stand here and make sure that the keeper gets a yellow card, but the action that he did on my leg is a yellow card. … He just waved away, and the linesman also said, ‘It’s in the game, it’s in the game,' so we can’t do anything about it. They’re the boss, and even if they’re wrong, then they’re right.”
WORTH NOTING: CONCACAF will await the match commissioner's report before determining whether to sanction Toronto FC for the thrown beer can that narrowly missed Beckham just before his corner kick leading to Donovan's tying goal. The Reds could be fined or, far less likely, face disciplinary action up to losing future home games -- or having to play in an empty stadium. … Arena called the artificial surface “a little bit dangerous” and noted that “our sport was not made to be played indoors on artificial fields. The only other option CONCACAF has is to move the game to a neutral site, which is a fair argument. I personally don't believe these games should be played on this field.” … Magee described the field as “a lot like Velcro patches.” … David Beckham said he “didn't know [Donovan] had bronchitis.” … Seattle is 90 minutes from an all-MLS semifinal against L.A. or Toronto. The Sounders won their home leg against Santos Laguna, 2-1, with goals by former UCLA star David Estrada and UC Irvine alum Brad Evans. Former Galaxy forward Herculez Gomez scored Santos' goal.