Ugh. Karma is a bitch. After not really deserving any points at home against Philadelphia but getting all three in stoppage time anyway, Sporting let a road point slip away in stoppage in Los Angeles (at least in what is close enough to Los Angeles for the Galaxy). After cursing at my television and sleeping on it, I have a few take-aways. 1. This is why we love MLS. This is why we hate MLS. The Powers That Be in Major League Soccer love parity, which the league's detractors claim is just another word for mediocrity. There's merit to both points of view.
Yes, over the past few seasons the Galaxy have been utterly dominant in terms of winning MLS Cup, except for a single season when my own Boys in Blue hoisted the trophy. By and large, they won those championships by being good enough to survive the regular season and talented enough to win in the playoffs. Peter Vermes looks to be pursuing a similar approach this season. The result we saw last night was two teams figuring themselves out. Neither team peaked last night, although in many ways Sporting looked better than they have recently. Both teams had big absences. Unfortunately for Sporting, our biggest absence, Ike Opara, will likely last the season.
2. Speaking of absences, we really miss Ike. When any team loses the guy who was in the process of engraving his name on the Defender of the Year trophy, that's a big deal. Kevin Ellis was certainly serviceable in place of Ike--but he was no Ike. If you enjoy playing around with statistics, you can see that Ellis had an exceptionally busy and mostly successful match. He was busy because the Galaxy made the rational choice to pick on him instead of Matt Besler--and that is the problem we have now that Ike is gone.
Whoever we start alongside Besler the rest of this season will be a target, and unless we add a player over the summer anyone we start in that position will have vulnerabilities that can be exploited by MLS forwards. Very few teams in the league have the luxury of starting two center backs of the caliber we started the season with. Other than Sporting last season, I can't think of a single team in the league that has had three center backs of that caliber (and last season we still somehow ran out of center backs due to injuries). A drop off in the center of our defense is an unfortunate inevitability.
3. Really, we have found a goalkeeper . . . really . . . I was excited for Marin to join the team after our keeper issues last season, and I thought he started the season well. Over the past couple of matches he's not been great, a string that continued last night. That said: goalkeepers don't grow on trees, and Marin is better than anyone we can plug into that hole. Even with his lackluster performance last night, he's a major upgrade over last season, when a mixture of injuries and hesitation leaked goals for us. Also, let's not compare Marin to the Legend of Jimmy Nielsen, who was ten-feet tall and bullet proof; the fair comparison is to the actual Jimmy Nielsen I watched play, the guy who made plenty of howlers but was sufficiently cocksure of himself to keep going out there. Marin will be fine, at least fine enough.
5. We may have found a way to play Benny in a more advanced role. Poor Benny Feilhaber is probably our best defensive midfield option at the moment, as well as our best option to start alongside Besler in the defense, not to mention maybe our best option at keeper. Benny is also, of course, our best option as a creative midfielder, but he can't play that far up the pitch while also playing defensive midfielder, central defender, and/or keeper.
The emergence of Servando Carrasco is enabling Benny to get up into the attack, and the result was a beautiful goal that actually came in the run of play. Carrasco is not yet the Second Coming of Uri Rosell, but if he can be a younger and faster version of Julio Cesar, Sporting will do just fine.
6. Speaking of creative attacking players, how about that Graham Zusi? It sure was nice to see Graham Zusi back in the lineup last night. If I'd had my druthers, we wouldn't have seen quite so much of him last night. The guy's coming off of a pair of injuries and his conditioning can't be great, which is a recipe for another injury late in a match. I don't think we saw Graham's best last night, but his flashes of skill and creativity made our attack look vastly better than it did over the Jacob-Peterson-at-Forward Matches of the last few weeks.
7. That's quite enough defensive injuries, thank you very much. We saw our third choice rookie left back (Dia) forced into service after an injury to de Jong. Seth's injury had temporarily suspended any dispute between the Kansas City native and the Canadian for that spot, and now we have a rookie and . . . I don't know, maybe Jacob Peterson? . . . available for that position.This is while we remain without Chance Myers at right back. And while we have lost Ike. Really, this is plenty of defensive injuries. Hopefully Seth will be ready to go for next weekend.
8. Do not despair! Look around the league! I realize that not all Sporting fans watch quite as much soccer as I do. If you're not the type of weirdo who subscribes to MLS Live and watches as many games as possible, you might be under the impression that dropping points late and struggling to score goals are unique to us here in Kansas City. It's not.
If you take a look at the Western Conference standings, you'll first note that there are six playoff spots--that's right, SIX teams in a ten team conference. Early season standings don't mean much, but right now we are in the eighth spot, behind San Jose, Houston, and Salt Lake and just outside of the playoff picture. Having watched those teams play, I've got to tell you: if we can't catch them over the course of the season, we don't deserve to be in the playoffs. Of those three teams, I suspect that Salt Lake will look older and older as the season goes on (the downside to relying upon cagey veterans). Houston and San Jose both have rosters with too many holes in them for me to like their chances, and I have my doubts about Houston's coaching.
I don't claim that our roster is a clear world beater at this point--especially without Ike Opara slotted in next to Besler--but Peter Vermes has shown that he can construct a roster in MLS. The early returns on Carrasco, Dia, Nemeth and even Marin lead me to believe, or at least hope, that our team will improve over the course of the season rather than fade.
Here's to hoping.