The LA Galaxy have been emphasizing set-piece defending, one of their weaknesses all season, for months now. There hasn't been much improvement.
They conceded three goals from dead balls in Sunday's 3-3 draw at FC Dallas, and even if two of them shouldn't have counted, they were costly: LA (10-9-4) lost two more points when Blas Pérez struck following a free kick in the closing minutes.
That's a dozen points this season the Galaxy have conceded in late collapses, the difference between their fifth-place standing in the Western Conference, seven points behind leaders Real Salt Lake, and being five points clear in the Supporters' Shield race.
Dallas scored Sunday from a first-half corner kick and two Michel free kicks in the second half, both of which were allowed despite clear offside violations, and if head coach Bruce Arena placed the blame for Pérez's pair on the officiating crew – he acknowledged LA needed to “do a better job” in the decisive free kick – his players were looking inward.
“Set pieces are a mentality,” said Landon Donovan, whose hat trick enabled the Galaxy to overcome two deficits and surge ahead in the 82nd minute. “When you're attacking one, it's do you want the ball more than your opponent, and when you're defending, it's do you have enough pride to make sure your guy doesn't score. And we failed in that. There's no two ways about it.
“We practice them, we talk about it, but at the end of the day, it's you against your guy, and you've got to make sure he doesn't get the better of you. There is not much more to say, except we've got to get it better.”
There were numerous errors on Dallas' first goal, with Andrew Jacobson beating Leonardo in the air, Matt Hedges finding space at the near post to finish the play, and goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini flailing about, and it stirred memories of George John's winner, following a header off the crossbar from a corner, in the Galaxy's 1-0 loss in Frisco back in mid-April.
Replays showed Pérez's 48th-minute strike was offside, as they did with John and Hedges on the finale. Had they not been, though, Pérez's volley after Omar Gonzalez's clearing header would have been a worthy goal.
“It's been the story of the whole year, our set pieces, where we end up falling asleep and they end up getting a goal,” Gonzalez said. “It's just a matter of putting everything you have into that, into that, 15- or 30-second play. It just has to be better. Our fight has to be better more so than the guy we're going up against, and [in this game] it just wasn't there.”
The solution? More work.
“It's a huge part of the game that we have to fine-tune as the season wears down,” left back Todd Dunivant said. “They didn't get a lot in the run of play, but those three chances they scored on were all set pieces. That's what teams are going to do to us, and we've got to make sure that doesn't happen.”