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Why The LA Galaxy Are Not Contenders… Yet

The Los Angeles Galaxy’s come-from-behind 3-2 win at Rio Tinto Stadium this week sent the MLS crowd into a frenzy, proclaiming “The Galaxy are back!” and “they are who we thought they were!”.  To be honest, some of this was occurring as early as last Sunday on the heels of LA’s win over a struggling Portland team.  With maximum points from their last two contests, it looks like the preseason favorites could be building what we call a winning streak and beginning to assert themselves in the playoff race.  Ever the contrarian, however, I want to provide another perspective to this story: the Galaxy are not back.  At least not yet.  Here are a few reasons why we should take all of these stories with a grain of salt and one scenario that must occur for the “Galaxy is back” story to be true:

  1. The two wins were the result of poor teams and poor play:  The first win of the week was a 1-0 snoozer at home against a Portland team that is struggling to string together goals.  Credit Josh Saunders for returning and picking up where he left off, which allowed the Galaxy to get the shutout.  But this game could have been very different if Danny Mwanga had been granted a penalty when he was taken down from behind.  As for the RSL result, the Galaxy benefited from an absurdly good night from Landon Donovan and some very poor play from the home team.  Are both quality wins? Sure, more so the away victory.  But did LA dominate either? Not really.
  2. The schedule doesn’t get any easier from here: I couldn’t disagree more with the usually astute Noah Davis and his analysis of the Galaxy’s schedule.  To be blunt, LA has a nightmare set of game coming up, and if they don’t string together a few more wins soon, this discussion will be rendered moot.  Saturday, the Galaxy are at home to Vancouver, but the Whitecaps look like a serious playoff team this year and have the players up front to unsettle LA’s defense.  That game is followed by a visit to another playoff contender that is a bad match-up, San Jose, before relief comes in the form of Philadelphia at home.  After that it gets brutal: a five game stretch in July that goes at Chicago, at Portland, at Vancouver, home to Chivas, at a (potentially) healthier Dallas.  The travel alone will tax this team’s already thin depth.
  3. The roster is not improved: Much has been made of the returns of Donovan and Keane from international duty as well as Josh Saunder’s admirable comeback.  But that covers the fact that this spring with these players Los Angeles was still a team outside the playoff picture.  Donovan has had a down year for him, and the team will lose Beckham for the London Olympics in a few weeks.  The depth, and the back line, has not added new and improved talent, so why should we expect markedly different results from this roster?
So how can we tell if the Galaxy are truly back?  It won’t be a few more wins, but it will be on Landon Donovan.  Much like the U.S. national team, Donovan is the talisman that helps spur his teammates and can make opponents pay for their mistakes (see Wednesday).  The Galaxy are a team at a higher level when Donovan plays at a higher level; the same can be said of Beckham but as mentioned that will not be possible with his absence this summer.  If the Galaxy are to survive their murderous stretch of schedule during June and July, and thus reassert themselves as contenders, they’ll need Captain America to lead the way.