Capt. Obvious would say this after watching the LA Galaxy clobber New York City FC in 2015’s highest profile MLS match to date: The Galaxy engine is revving fast once again, the game-changers doing their thing to nourish thoughts of a fourth championship in five years.
But a clever first mate might then quietly add this, almost ominously, as if issuing a warning of something fiercer and more threatening ahead: The LA Galaxy is no finished product, and Bruce Arena’s team, talented and increasingly tight of weaving, is almost sure to get getter.
And he would be correct.
In years ahead, with apologies to Seattle, Toronto FC and even the New York Red Bulls, this LAGvNYC series might be the ultimate MLS bell cow in terms of matchups with hefty national appeal. Beyond the obvious of teams from the two largest U.S. markets, consider that NYCFC wants to spend. The Galaxy always has spent, of course, from David Beckham to Giovani dos Santos and a few brightly lit, pricey places in between.
Perhaps one day, the team from the Bronx, sharing an ownership Sugar Daddy with free spending Premiership heavy Manchester City, will be the equal of the machine that Arena has built in Southern California. But that day isn’t today, and how. The Galaxy’s Sunday 5-1 result wasn’t really as close as that.
After 15 minutes, when New York held possession well enough, even if Andrea Pirlo’s passing and Kwadwo Poku’s midfield drive didn’t create many clear cut chances, the Galaxy was running downhill. But for some heroic, emergency defending in front of NYCFC’s goal and Josh Saunders’ typically capable performance in that goal, this would have been something more embarrassing still for NYCFC and its proud manager, Jason Kreis.
For the first-place Galaxy, tidy in possession, good enough in front of goal and increasingly perceptive of movement, a full-fledged 6-1 or 7-1 romp-and-stomp wouldn’t be so hard to envision.
That’s the hard reality of the here and now. Here is the part that gets more speculative, about how things are likely to get even more prosperous out in fertile Bruce Arena Valley: there is more gas pedal to be pressed here. In his post-game comments, Arena talked about a “good” relationship between Robbie Keane and dos Santos. If we could administer a little truth serum or perhaps even a high quality scotch or two, Arena would probably concede that “good” is merely the starting point for this big-ticket tandem.
SEE MORE: 10 things we learned from MLS game week 25.
We know about Keane, who treats Major League Soccer’s regular season the way most of us treat the days of the week: we work earnestly enough from Monday-Thursday, but we live for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Well, it’s “Friday” for Keane, with “Saturday” and “Sunday” still ahead. His Most Valuable Player campaigns – one that he won in 2014, and a previous run at the prize that he probably should have won – were built on elevated performances over the regular seasons’ last two months.
(And by the way, as the Irishman sits with 15 goals and seven assists over just 15 starts in this injury-delayed campaign, he has now joined Sebastian Giovinco, Kei Kamara and Benny Feilhaber in the ongoing MVP conversations. There has been just one two-time MVP (Preki), and winning back-to-back would be a first in the 20-year-old league. The guy is 35 years old – going on 25, apparently.)
Meanwhile, dos Santos, the talented Mexican international, has been on the field for less than a month. It was obvious at first that he and Keane weren’t in sync. Sunday’s show at the StubHub Center was the first time we really saw these two reading from the same script. It will get even better in days ahead, as dos Santos gets fit enough to play more minutes out wide in the position that better suits him.
None of this should be a surprise, by the way. Arena has forgotten more about MLS than a bunch of league supporters could ever hope to know. He definitely understands that MLS in March, April, May and even into June is more or less an extended preseason. You can’t completely stink up the joint, but so long as you don’t fall too far behind, you have lots of room for R&D (research and development, that is). You can tinker and trial and tiptoe your way into the summer, so long as the pieces start falling into place by July or so.
Since falling to Real Salt Lake on July 14 in the Open Cup (Steven Gerrard’s debut), the Galaxy has won seven of eight over two competitions. So if you were among the doubters who thought the wheels were coming off back in May (a 3-3-5 record at one point) — especially after falling at Orlando, 4-0 — please see me after class. You should know better. (And I tried to tell you so back then, by the way.)
So, yes, the Galaxy arrow is pointed decidedly “up,” and if you listen carefully to Keane, he’s telling you so, albeit with the appropriate level of cautionary humility.
“Certainly, there are exciting times ahead,” he said after Sunday’s match. “But we’ve got to continue, not get carried away, continue the way we’ve been playing for the last month. As long as we can do that, I think we’ll be fine.”
It helps to have a defense playing so well behind all that attacking might. Robbie Rogers was two-way force at left back. (Ah, yet another opportunity to raise the flag of “Rogers for national team.” It feels good, I have to say.)
Over his right shoulder sits Leonardo, an average defender in most of his time around the Galaxy’s Carson campus (75 appearances in six years). But he’s 27 now and a more mature, focused performer. What’s more, he has been nothing short of outstanding over the last two weeks – probably Man of the Match last week against Dallas and again Sunday against New York. Well, he might have been, that is, if Keane wasn’t hogging the spotlight so dominantly, scoring twice in last week’s road win and then elevating his performance even more (two goals, two assists) in Sunday’s tar-and-feathering.
NYCFC: The other side of the coin
From the other side of Sunday’s statement, we continue to see that management just didn’t get it right when assembling the basic, DP bones of NYCFC. If you want to build around the aging Andrea Pirlo, fine. Or if you want to build around the aging Frank Lampard, fine. But both? Who thought that was a good idea? What, they couldn’t find a way to beat Montreal to the aging Didier Drogba, too?
More to the point, they needed to funnel a little more money toward that beleaguered back line, the one let so vulnerable from Pirlo’s MO. “Effortless” is a great way to describe the man’s unearthly vision and world class passing, but it’s not what you want said of your defending.
In fairness, this is an expansion team. Even one that could afford to buy Connecticut isn’t immune to the struggles of first-year clubs. Heck, fellow MLS newbie Orlando City has been out-scored 13-1 over its last four, now getting the deluxe package of expansion club distress.
Back to the Galaxy now: If you’re a little bored or tired of the StubHub Center as site of the MLS Cup final – it was there in 2011, 2012 and 2014 – you might start steeling yourself for more of the same come December.
If you’re a little tired of Arena and the well-heeled Galaxy as MLS Cup champion – it happened in 2011, 2012 and 2014 – well, you might just have to get over it. Because the Galaxy is so clearly the MLS Cup favorites right now, there really is no other way to see it.
That doesn’t mean it’s certainly going to happen; the playoff system increases chances that some other team gets hot, or that an unfavorable matchup or a bad day at the office trips up the favorites. But it does mean the Galaxy’s chances of lifting that crown once again look better than any other team’s.
If you don’t agree, well, you probably didn’t see Keane, dos Santos, Gerrard, Juninho, Leonardo, Rogers and rest absolutely destroy NYCFC on the sunniest of days in sunny SoCal.
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