PORTLAND, Ore. – Defending on set pieces has been a major issue for the LA Galaxy throughout the 2013 MLS season. Wins have turned into draws and draws have become losses as a result of the lapses, and if the team is going to correct the problem before the MLS Cup Playoffs, it’ll come down to one thing.
The Galaxy conceded their sixth goal of the year from a corner kick on Sunday when Maximiliano Urruti scored the game winner off a Will Johnson’s corner to give the Portland Timbers a 1-0 victory over LA. Urruti’s goal and the defeat to Portland leave the Galaxy in a tie with Colorado for fourth place in the Western Conference with just four games remaining.
Failing defend corner kicks has been the Galaxy’s Achilles heel this season and again on Sunday, it proved the difference between three points and none, and that’s unacceptable for Galaxy captain Robbie Keane.
“It’s always about desire. It’s about desire to stay with your man and don’t let him beat you. It’s about the desire to get there ahead of him and wanting to win the ball,” said Keane. “You can get rid of tactics and all that stuff. It’s about desire and commitment to go and win the ball and at this moment and time, the other teams have more desire at the moment then we have [on set pieces].”
Keane’s sentiment was echoed by his strike partner Landon Donovan.
"It's a mentality. Defending set pieces is a mentality. It's who wants the ball. Too often, guys have let down in that area,” said Donovan. “So, either you change who is marking or people don't play if they can't do that. That's sort of the harsh reality, but that's how it has to be. We can't keep giving up goals like that."
Urruti’s goal was an another example of the two-time defending champions’ struggles as the Argentine was able to escape contact from right back Sean Franklin and slip past the defense. After shaking his marker, the Argentine was able to flick in a shot that left Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo flat-footed.
But as for how the Galaxy correct their problems on set pieces? Defender Omar Gonzalez admits that the team needs to get down and dirty.
“I think being more aggressive and being tighter on the guy that you’re marking—just wanting it more,” said Gonzalez. “I know that we’ve been saying that over and over again, and we still keep seeing mistakes happen, but maybe even just foul a guy or do anything that we can to not allow a goal. Hopefully, the ref wouldn’t allow a penalty kick, but we’ve got to be more aggressive.”
If the team is unable to find the desire necessary to cure this problem on corners and set pieces as a whole, then Keane paints a grim picture of the Galaxy’s chances of defending their MLS Cup title.
“If we keep conceding from set pieces, we can forget about getting to the playoffs,” said Keane. “We need to stop fairly soon because there's not many games left."
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com