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Galaxy defense braces for Red Bulls

May 10, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Galaxy defenders Greg Vanney and Chris Klein are two of Major League Soccer's journeymen, former U.S. national team players who have been around the block a few times and know what's what.

Klein is in his 11th season in the league and Vanney is in his 10th, having also played three seasons in France. In short, they are tough, experienced players with enough savvy to anchor any MLS back line.

All of which makes it odd that six games into the season the Galaxy, statistically speaking, has the worst defense in the league.

The team has given up a league-high 13 goals going into tonight's match against the New York Red Bulls at the Home Depot Center -- and the Red Bulls are bringing in two formidable strikers in Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore.

"You really have to be aware of Juan Pablo when the ball is coming into the box," Vanney said. "He's very clever about slipping off you and getting into positions to finish, and he doesn't need many chances. So we have to be very sharp about that.

"Jozy has some more physical aspects that you have to be cautious about. You have to keep him in front of you and keep him in situations that aren't very dangerous."

So far in 2008, the Galaxy has had trouble. The defense is giving up better than two goals a game and has only one shutout in six outings as Coach Ruud Gullit has switched players and changed their positions in the hope of finding the right combination.

Vanney and Klein are the only defenders to have played all 540 minutes, with Gullit also having employed Sean Franklin, Abel Xavier, Troy Roberts, Michael Gavin and Mike Randolph in the back line.

"Some of it comes down to individual defending and not making the little mistakes that have been made," Vanney said.

"The other side of it is that we do push numbers forward, and that's the way Ruud wants to play," Klein said. "There are times when that leaves holes, and we have to learn how to adjust. He talks about it a lot."

As a former world-class attacking player, Gullit is naturally more comfortable with that side of the game. He wants the Galaxy to be offense-minded and seems just as willing to win a game 5-4 as 1-0.

But while Landon Donovan and David Beckham have been providing the offense, scoring 11 of the Galaxy's league-high 13 goals, no one has yet stepped up to solidify the defense.

"As a back four, we have to be able to withstand whatever's coming at us so that those guys can really focus on what they do -- score goals and get assists," Vanney said.

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GALAXY TONIGHT

vs. New York, 7:30, FSNW

Site --Home Depot Center

Radio --1150, 1330.

Records -- Galaxy 2-2-2, Red Bulls 2-1-2.

Record vs. Red Bulls (2007) -- 1-0-1.

Update -- Galaxy defender Greg Vanney calls New York's Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore "probably the best two that we'll come up against this year in terms of playing together and being dangerous."

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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