There's a corner here somewhere that the Galaxy needs to turn, and debate on whether they've done so following a horrific start to this campaign is taking place within the locker room, too.
Landon Donovan's take: The Galaxy started turning things around in the loss two weeks ago at Sporting Kansas City, then improved upon that to beat Portland last weekend.
And it's not nearly enough.
“The reality of last weekend is we beat a team that had lost a few in a row and were at the bottom of the West. And we were at home,” Donovan said as he prepared for L.A.'s Major League Soccer clash Saturday night at Colorado. “That's a game we need to win, we have to win.”
This one, he notes, “is more difficult,” and not only because the Rapids, even without two of their leaders, is among MLS's most dynamic sides. They're fast and skillful and athletic, and that mile-high altitude is a little bit like a 12th man in Colorado colors.
The Galaxy head in with greater confidence than they've possessed since falling behind by two goals at the start of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg in Toronto to begin the season. They defended well, for the first time, at K.C., and the victory over the Timbers at Home Depot Center showed improvement everywhere on the field, with newcomer David Junior Lopes providing the physical game needed in the back, Juninho looking a little more like his old self in midfield, and Donovan and David Beckham scoring fine goals.
“Winning always helps,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “Even when you play bad and win, you get fooled by that. It does funny things with your mind. I think we had a combination of playing well and winning, though, which is good.”
Said Beckham: “We felt like [we'd stepped forward] during the game, just because our whole performance was better. I think even had we lost the game, we'd have felt we played a lot better game than we had done all season. Thankfully, we won the game and got the three points, but the only way we'll turn a corner is if we'll continue to work hard like we've been doing and continue to play hard like we've been doing.”
The Galaxy's wins haven't been against impressive competition. D.C. United looked utterly lost against L.A. a month ago, although they've played pretty well since. Portland last week dropped its fourth in a row, and in the last three the Timbers have conceded the winning goal after the 80th minute. Hardly the best measuring stick.
“We're still a long way from where we need to be,” Donovan said. “Where we should be.”
What needs cleaning up?
“We're getting back to having a mentality that we've had over the past few years,” he said. “Defending properly, that's just an attitude. And when we do those things, we don't really have to worry about the offensive part too much. We know guys want the ball, guys are talented enough to make plays, but we have to do all the little things right along the way or we're not going to be successful. And we started doing that again.”
Todd Dunivant agrees.
“The biggest thing [to improve] was our work rate,” he said. “We had an attitude that we're going to back up the guy next to us and make sure that everyone had each other's backs and did the extra work. Whereas the other [games], we kind of took plays off, and everyone was looking to someone else to make the plays, and that's not how you win.”
WORTH NOTING: Center back A.J. DeLaGarza has recovered from adductor tightness and is expected to return to the lineup. He figures to parnter either Lopes or rookie Tommy Meyer in the middle. ... Beckham's stoppage-time blast against Portland won MLS's Goal of the Week honor, polling nearly 74 percent in the online vote. ... Beckham will be making just his second appearance in Colorado. He played in Colorado's 4-0 win in 2008 but missed meetings in 2007, 2010 and 2011 because of injuries and 2008 while on loan to AC Milan. ... Dunivant, goalkeeper Josh Saunders and forward Robbie Keane have played every minute of every Galaxy game this season. Right back Sean Franklin hasn't left the field in league play. ... The Galaxy lead the all-time series, 36-23-7, with a 2-1 edge in pre-2000 shootouts and a loss on penalties in a U.S. Open Cup qualifier. L.A. swept last year's meetings. The Rapids are 15-9-4 in league home games. ...
Beckham, no surprise, made the list as Great Britain Olympic manager Stuart Pearce cut the number of hopefuls from 191 to 80 players. Former England star Gary Lineker told the BBC's Radio 5 live that Becks should not make the 18-man roster “if you are going to pick the best three over-age players,” but he acknowledged “if it is a 'thank you' for all the work that Beckham has done for the Olympics and getting it to London, then it is a different matter. … Who knows? It might be a done deal.” ...
Frankie Hejduk, the former UCLA All-American and two-time World Cup defender whose playing career ended when the Galaxy declined to bring him back this season and he didn't sign elsewhere, officially announced his retirement Thursday and joined the Columbus Crew as brand ambassador. Hejduk, 37, played eight seasons for the Crew and captained the club to the 2008 MLS Cup/Supporters' Shield double. ... Goalkeeper Nick Noble, who signed with the Galaxy in December but was waived at the end of Feburary, is with the Harrisburg City Islanders in the third-tier USL Pro.
Head coach: Oscar Pareja.
Key players: M Jaime Castrillon, F Conor Casey, F Omar Cummings, M Pablo Mastroeni, M Jeff Larentowicz, M Brian Mullan, D Drew Moor.
Local guys: D Marvell Wynne (UCLA).
Update: The Rapids haven't scored in their past two games, road losses to Real Salt Lake and Seattle, but they've beaten every foe they should have and are 2-0, with two 2-0 wins, at home. New coach Pareja, a former FC Dallas assistant, has brought a Latin feel to the team, adding Colombians Castrillon and defender Luis Zapata and Argentine midfielder Martin Rivero. Mastroeni's concussion has boosted Larentowicz's importance, and Cummings' speed is a weapon up top, although Casey's return from an Achilles tear -- postponed another week -- will add attacking dimensions.
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: M Jamie Smith (rigtht ACL tear), D Anthony Wallace (left Achilles tear), M Pablo Mastroeni (concussion).
Questionable: F Conor Casey (left Achilles tear), D Eddie Ababio (concussion).
Probable: M Ross LaBauex (sports hernia).
Dick's Sporting Goods Park (Commerce City, Colo.), 6 p.m. PT
Referee: Ramon Hernandez
TV: KDOC (Channel 56, English) and KWHY (Channel 22, Spanish)
Radio: K-Talk (KTLK-AM/1150, English) and ESPN Deportes (KWKW-AM/1330, Spanish)