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Galaxy tries to find its footing amid lineup gaps, late-game gaffes

Galaxy is 6-6-2 and in fifth playoff spot in West, but it has lost five of its last seven MLS games. Stars such as Robbie Keane have missed games to play for their national teams, and surrendering late goals is a trend.

June 18, 2013|By Jim Peltz, Los Angeles Times
  • Robbie Keane has played in only six of the Galaxy's 14 MLS games this season.
Robbie Keane has played in only six of the Galaxy's 14 MLS games this… (Michael Nelson / EPA )

The Galaxy hoped to clear one hurdle early this season by getting off to a much better start than last year.

The club succeeded — but only in a mediocre way.

At this time last year, the Galaxy had a miserable record of 4-8-2 for 14 points. The team then mustered a charge in the latter half of the season and won its second consecutive Major League Soccer championship, followed soon after by star David Beckham's departure for France and Landon Donovan's extended sabbatical.

So far this year, the Galaxy is 6-6-2 with 20 points and is holding on to the fifth and last playoff spot in the West.

But the club has lost five of its last seven MLS games, including a blowout 5-0 loss to the New England Revolution two weeks ago and a 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake on June 8.

Now, as the Galaxy hosts the Portland Timbers on Wednesday night at StubHub Center (formerly Home Depot Center), the Galaxy will be coming off an 11-day break that has given the team time to rest and regroup.

"Any time you're losing, you want to get back on the field quickly," midfielder Michael Stephens said. "But I think it's a good time to sit back and reflect on what was done wrong in the past couple of games."

They will need plenty to go right against Portland, a Western Conference rival that has lost only one game this season for a 6-1-8 record. And the latest win for the Timbers was a 1-0 victory over division leader FC Dallas on Saturday.

Like some other MLS clubs, the Galaxy has fielded lineups when some of its best players were away with their national clubs.

Galaxy star forward Robbie Keane, for instance, has played in only six of the team's 14 MLS games so far partly because of his time with the Irish national team and partly because of a sore left ankle.

That has often deprived the Galaxy of its strong one-two punch up front: Keane and Donovan, its all-time leading scorer, who missed three games this season before returning in late March.

"We've been a much better team with Robbie playing," Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena said. "We need better leadership on the field [with Keane]. That's one of my main concerns."

Defender Omar Gonzalez is still with the U.S. team and will miss Wednesday's game. So will defender Oscar Sorto and forward Jose Villarreal, who are with the U.S. U-20 national team, along with midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, who was suspended for this game because of his five yellow penalty cards.

Another concern has been the Galaxy's tendency to surrender late goals.

The negative trend started with the second match of the season, when the Galaxy allowed Chivas USA to score in the 89th minute and turn what appeared to be an almost certain Galaxy victory into a 1-1 draw.

"I'd say it's still a problem," Arena said of the team's late lapses. "It's concentration, sometimes it's conditioning, sometimes it's just an accident. Salt Lake scored the other day [when] the ball hits off the guy's back."

But one of the Galaxy's newest arrivals, midfielder-forward Robbie Rogers, said his teammates remain positive despite the batch of recent losses.

"I've been at clubs in the past where a few losses would really get the team down; the locker room would have a big, negative shift," Rogers said. "But here the guys seem very motivated and it just seems like they're working harder."

In the Galaxy's favor, Keane is back and veteran defender Todd Dunivant — who has played in only seven games because of a left leg strain — is back to full training with the club, although his exact return isn't yet known.

The Galaxy on Monday also acquired veteran midfielder Pablo Mastroeni, 36, from the Colorado Rapids. A six-time MLS All-Star, Mastroeni was part of the Rapids' title-winning team in 2010.

Arena said that despite the Galaxy's record lately, he remained optimistic.

"We're six points ahead of our team in 2012" at this point in the season, he said. "It isn't enough; it has to get a heck of a lot better and it will."

james.peltz@latimes.com

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