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April 1, 2010
Galaxy “Not Sharp, still beat Chivas

By Scott French
L.A. Soccer News Correspondent

Edson Buddle scored twice against Chivas USA.
Edson Buddle scored twice against Chivas USA.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
CARSON, Calif. – The Los Angeles Galaxy’s continued dominance of its “SuperClasico” rivalry with Chivas USA was never in question Thursday night, but when it was over, one coach bemoaned that his team wasn’t sharp enough and the other boasted of the pride he felt in his team’s performance.

Guess which was which.

It’s about expectations more than anything else. Bruce Arena has built the Galaxy into one of the two or three best sides in Major League Soccer – maybe the best – and if its 2-0 triumph over its archrival wasn’t everything it could have been, well, that’s all right. There’s always room for improvement.

Edson Buddle scored two more sizzling goals, to go with the one he netted in last weekend’s 1-0 victory over New England. He’s at the top of his game, and his game has been good for some time: The striker with Pele’s name has scored, believe it or not, 77 goals in an MLS career that’s in its 10th season, he had 15 two years ago, but it can be argued that he’s never been as good as he is now.

“I feel good,” he says when asked about his form, which dipped last season, when he scored just five goals, mostly because of injuries.

His finishing is clinical, no?

“I had some other chances I could have finished,” he says. “A touch here, slightly off here, but it’s only the second game of the season.”

The Galaxy, and Buddle, managed just two shots on goal, same as Chivas, but both hit the net. The first, in the seventh minute, from Sean Franklin’s cross from the right flank. Buddle raced past Michael Umana, who stumbled as he tried to keep up, bent to the ball, and nodded it delicately, perfectly, inside the near post.

“For a split second,” Buddle said, “I didn’t think I was going to get to it, but I just decided to run hard, and when I realized I could get to the ball,” it was over.

He got his second in the 87th minute, not long as Chivas’ only true – and truly dangerous – chance, first-timing a square ball from Landon Donovan, who had run onto Mike Magee’s feed and stepped past Umana like he wasn’t there.

That’s three goals for Buddle, three assists for Landon – he sent the ball to Franklin leading to the first goal – and nothing for the Galaxy’s first two foes.

And so L.A., which needed 12 games last season to get its second win, is two for two, and this one couldn’t be sweeter: Nothing is better than beating the archrival, the guys the Galaxy sees roaming the same hallways, in the same weight room, day after day, and now it’s nine games since Chivas has won in the series. The overall series: 13 Galaxy wins, just three for Chivas, and six draws.

Buddle was pivotal, and if he wasn’t going to anoint his start to the season as something special, his coach and teammates were more than willing to pour on the accolades.

“Edson’s been great,” said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena. “His ability to hold the ball up under pressure is outstanding. I think at times tonight in the first half he was caught up on his own a little bit. He did an outstanding job in getting ahold of the ball and being dangerous individually or bringing his teammates into the game. He’s had a remarkable start to the season.”

Donovan concurred: “Edson was fantastic. He’s being rewarded for a lot of hard work. He was in here the whole offseason working hard to get himself ready for the season.” And “the goals are what gets him the headlines, but he’s doing a lot of things for our team right now that helps us win.” And “when he’s healthy, he’s as good as any forward in this league.” And “the way his confidence is, we want to keep getting him the ball.”

Arena thought Chivas had the better of play – the Goats certainly had more possession, although they achieved little from it – and were the better team physically, which doesn’t sound right.

New Chivas coach Martin Vasquez wants his side to play attractive possession soccer, moving the ball from the back through midfield and to the front. To do so, he has dropped the flat-four midfield that Preki employed – with Jesse Marsch and Paulo Nagamura gone, he might as well – and gone to a midfield triangle that needs strong flank play to succeed.

It was mostly disastrous in week one’s 1-0 loss to Colorado, in which Chivas had a lot of possession but few chances, largely because wingers Jorge Flores and Michael Lahoud provided little on the flanks. Both were sent to the bench Thursday, and Vasquez flipped his triangle, using two holding midfielders – Marcelo Saragosa again, teamed with rookie Blair Gavin – with Osael Romero in the attacking role.

Sacha Kljestan, who teamed with Osael at the top of the triangle against Colorado, returned to his customary slot on the right wing, and Maykel Galindo, the club’s best forward, went to the left. It was an improvement, to be sure, but the Galaxy, no matter what Arena says, won the midfield wars behind Dema Kovalenko and Chris Birchall.

“Dema really cleans up all the garbage in there,” Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant said. “And all their possession was kind of in their half, in front of their 18, and we’ll take that all day.”

When Chivas did get through midfield, it found L.A.’s backline difficult to penetrate. Omar Gonzalez, the MLS Rookie of the Year last season, looks like an old pro at 21. And Leonardo, just 22 – he’s one of the three young Brazilians on loan from Sao Paulo – has been superb filling in for injured Gregg Berhalter.

“The biggest thing Omar has done this year is he’s become a leader,” Donovan said.

“Last year he took direction from Gregg. And this year with Gregg not being healthy, he’s had to step up and lead, especially with a guy next to him who doesn’t speak English and hasn’t played a lot with us.”

Said Dunivant: “Leonardo’s come in and done a great job for us. He’s really fortified the backline, and him and Omar have been a great partnership. The communication barrier hasn’t been a problem at all. Anything you say, he might not understand the words, but he understands what you mean. And that’s made a difference.”

Arena, afterward, said he didn’t think the Galaxy was “sharp on the ball,” that Chivas “played well and played hard” and that “it was a challenge for us.”

“I think we looked a little tired,” he said. “I think this time of year, it’s difficult for a team to play two games in a short period of time like we had to do (with two games in six days), because we’re not fit enough and our recovery is not what it needs to be. … I think they looked like the sharper physical team tonight. And the extra day’s rest (for Chivas) perhaps is a factor in the game.”

Yet Chivas accomplished virtually nothing until the 80th minute. It managed one first-half shot – Galindo fired wide from a nice ball over the Galaxy backline from Romero in the 31st minute – and didn’t put anything on net until Kljestan forced Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts to dive in the 64th minute for a save that really wasn’t all that difficult. Jesus Padilla, with Chivas’ third shot, fired high and wide a minute later.

It finally came together for the Goats in the 80th minute, and they should have pulled even. Kljestan on the right, chipped the ball over L.A.’s defense for Padilla to run onto. He caught up with the ball, but his shot was stopped by a prone Ricketts, who couldn’t hold on. The ball ricocheted here and there – off Leonardo, who had trailed Padilla, and off Padilla, and then off Gonzalez, who had rushed into the fray, finally rolling in front of Maicon Santos.

The Brazilian forward, in his first minutes after missing most of preseason with a knee injury, had a nearly open net, but he sent the ball well over the crossbar.

A.J. DeLaGarza, a late substitute for the Galaxy, was backing the play up. He’d gone to the net as the scrum developed between the penalty spot and 6-yard box.

“A.J. did a good job – in the goal, he made them think twice about just tapping it in,” Dunivant said. “A.J. having cover, he might not get credit, but he makes a difference on that play. Those are the little plays we talk about. If we can get those little things right, it makes a big difference.”

Maicon Santos had another chance six minutes later, when Gavin headed a long cross from Mariano Trujillo toward him in the L.A. box. His shot went into the side netting. A minute later, Buddle had his second, and it was over.

Vasquez proclaimed he was “very proud. Disappointed with the result, but I think we’re on the right track.”

He said Chivas “had a plan. We had played the Galaxy (in a scrimmage) three weeks ago, and we seen them against New England, and we stuck to the plan we had, and that was to play a fast-paced game and be aggressive, and we were very unlucky, very unfortunate not to get a goal. It would have changed everything, because we would have gotten the momentum, and who knows, we might have had the opportunity to finish it off.”

Fair enough, but Chivas, for everything that went right, appeared to be in the game for only 20 or 30 seconds, as Padilla chased Kljestan’s chip and the ball rattled around en route to Maicon Santos’ foot. That aside, this was the Galaxy’s game from start to finish.

“They actually played pretty well,” Donovan offered. “They had a lot of the ball, and they moved the ball well. Like always with them, they weren’t overly dangerous. They had one good chance. Aside from that, they weren’t dangerous. …

“Our competitiveness tonight was very good. And in this game, that has to be the starting point. Whether you play well on the night as a team really doesn’t matter in these games. You have to be able to compete. I think we outcompeted them, we outworked them, and we outran them. That’s why we won.”

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