CARSON -- It's only the fifth game in the Galaxy's Major League Soccer campaign, and already they're in must-win mode. That's what happens when things so puzzlingly fall apart.
There's enormous frustration and confusion in the L.A. camp -- David Beckham isn't even certain how many losses the Galaxy (1-3-0, 3 points) have -- but that's accompanied by a wary confidence that things will turn around, likely when the Portland Timbers (1-3-1, 4 points), fellow stragglers, visit Home Depot Center for a Major League Soccer match.
“I think there's certainly some frustration, but we're kind of looking at [the tough start] as an opportunity to get things right,” left back Todd Dunivant said. “And if there's ever a time in the season to do it, it's be now. We have to sort out all of our issues, and we've got a lot of them.”
Defending has been the biggest problem -- as much in midfield as at the back -- but L.A.'s defense wasn't bad in last week's 1-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City, the only MLS team with a perfect (5-0-0) record. That the attack has also been so poor, unable to put a shot on frame at K.C., suggests that either Omar Gonzalez should have been runaway winner of MLS's Most Valuable Player honor last year, or that the troubles are deeper or more varied than the missing center back. Maybe both.
“We've not done well in games and not even looked like winning games,” said Beckham, who figures to return to the Galaxy lineup after missing last week's game with a hamstring injury. “I think it's time now to show as a team and as individuals the character that we've got and we've shown over the last few years, because so far this season we haven't seen it. ... We're not defending well, we're not working, we're not doing the simple things. We've not become a bad team overnight, it's just the simple things we're not doing.”
And things aren't quite as bad as Beckham thinks.
“We're only, what, five games in?” he said Thursday. “Lost four and won one. Not a good record, but it could be worse. At least we have one win.”
Portland offers a nice opportunity to straighten things out. The Timbers have lost three in a row, and they dropped their last two -- at home -- by surrendering a late lead against Real Salt Lake and conceding a late winner to Chivas USA.
“The negative reactions of everyone outside of this team -- the fans, I guess -- they're worried are we going to play better,” center back A.J. DeLaGarza said. “Inside the team, we know what we can do better, we know we will do better. ... I think just to get our confidence back, we need something good this week.”
Landon Donovan agrees. The Galaxy captain calls this “a game we have to have” and, when asked if it's desperate, doesn't demur.
“If last weekend's game had been isolated amongst four good performances in the league, or three or four good performances, it wouldn't be such a big deal,” he said. “We didn't play well the first three weeks. Last week was actually an OK performance. We feel like we figured a few things out, but we still lost to a team that's the best team in the league right now. That all being said, regardless of the situation, this is a game we need to win.
“We're at home against a team that's down around us at the bottom of the table, and it's a game we need to win. Period.”
The Galaxy is last in the Western Conference, one spot below the Timbers, and already sit 12 points off the lead, although Real Salt Lake (5-1-0, 15 points) has played two more games. None of that is particularly important, because of MLS's structure, with the top five in each conference making the playoffs and a history of hot teams prevailing at the finish. But there are no bad teams in the West, nobody wants to fall too far behind too quickly, and, as head coach Bruce Arena put it, “it'd be nice to be the one who's 12 points ahead.”
“Getting into the playoffs is the important thing,” Dunivant noted, “but we're not conceding the Supporters' Shield [for best regular-season record] at this point. We're not conceding the rest of the season by any means. ... We're not looking at the standings at this point. It's really just about playing well again. Once we start playing well again, play the way we know how to play and that we know we can play, the results are going to start coming.”
Said DeLaGarza: “We're not going to win an MLS championship in the first few weeks. We're not worried about that. We still have 30 games. We could go 30-0 and everyone would forget about it. Obviously, that would be pretty tough, but it's something we could do. ... We'll try to do that and forget about the start.”
WORTH NOTING: Best bet for a lineup change: Chad Barrett for struggling Edson Buddle up top. ... New arrival David Junior Lopes, the Brazilian central defender acquired in a trade Tuesday with Chivas USA, could make his season debut -- he didn't make the bench in the Goats' last three games. ... DeLaGarza has been added to the injury list, questionable with adductor tightness. ... Three Portland players came off the injury list in the past week -- defender Hanyer Mosquera and midfielders Kalif Alhassan and Sal Zizzo -- but both backup goalkeepers are on the list, with No. 3 Joe Bendik out following surgery on his meniscus. ... Portland coach John Spencer, to the Timbers' website on the team's struggles: “There will come a time in the season where we will look back on this month and say, 'My god, that was a [bad] month, how down we were, how frustrated the way the results and the games went for us.' We’ll be in a better position, that I do know.” ... The all-time series is tied, 1-1, with each side claiming a 3-0 victory last season. the Galaxy won at home last April (with Barrett and Donovan scoring in the first eight minutes and Donovan adding another in the second half) and lost in Oregon in early August.
Head coach: John Spencer
Key players: F Kris Boyd, M Darlington Nagbe, G Troy Perkins, M James Marcelin, M Kalif Alhassan.
Local guys: M Sal Zizzo (UCLA).
Update: Spencer nearly took the expansion Timbers to the MLS playoffs last year, and they looked electric rallying from deficits to beat Philadelphia and claim a draw at Sporting Kansas City. But they've given up the first goal in four of five games and are coming off successive one-goal losses at New England, at home against Real Salt Lake (which scored in the 89th minute and in stoppage to pull out a 3-2 decision) and at home against Chivas USA (which rallied from an early deficit for a late 2-1 victory). Scottish striker Boyd, a pure finisher, could be a huge star in MLS, and Nagbe is maturing into a special player -- he has three goals, two in the loss to RSL.
Out: D Omar Gonzalez (left ACL tear), D Leonardo (right ACL/LCL tears), G Brian Perk (sports hernia surgery).
Questionable: M David Beckham (hamstring strain), D A.J. DeLaGarza (right adductor tightness), M Michael Stephens (right ankle sprain).
Out: D Mamadou “Futty” Danso (left foot fracture), F Eddie Johnson (concussion), M James Marcelin (left hamstring strain), D Rodney Wallace (left ankle sprain), G Joe Bendik (right meniscus surgery).
Doubtful: G Jake Gleeson (right iliotibial tract band tightness), D David Horst (right hip surgery).
Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m.
Referee: Jair Marrufo
TV: KDOC (Channel 56, English) and KWHY (Channel 22, Spanish)
Radio: K-Talk (KTLK-AM/1150, English) and ESPN Deportes (KWKW-AM/1330, Spanish)