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Author: Iain Macintosh

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It is the fifth minute of injury time in a goalless game so poor that the extra football feels less like a bonus and more like detention.
Colorado Rapids, one of MLS’s smaller franchises and the side that finished bottom of the Western Conference in 2015, push forward for one final attack on their guests, the glamorous and expensively assembled LA Galaxy.
Substitute Marco Pappa slips the ball to the edge of the box where Kevin Doyle is waiting.

He flicks it up, but only as far as Galaxy centre-back Daniel Steres, who heads it away. But the header is poor. The ball loops slowly through the night sky. Pappa is still advancing, he’s lost Robbie Rogers, he knows that there is neither the time nor the room for a controlling touch. And so he unleashes a first time thunderbolt that screams into the back of the net.LA Galaxy, one of the favourites to lift the cup, are crestfallen.  “It was a crappy game,” says coach Bruce Arena afterwards. He’s not wrong.

For European fans, unfamiliar with the vagaries of MLS, the Galaxy are an easy access point

They have a recognisable manager in Bruce Arena, who did so much for the national team between 1998 and 2006. They have a host of recognisable players, led by the likes of Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane and Nigel de Jong, and they are of course, contrary to Bayern Munich’s nickname, the real FC Hollywood. But are they any good?
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The first game of the season, at home to DC United, was wrapped up in style, but the 4-1 victory masked a number of concerns.

Galaxy were wretched in the first half; ponderous and poor in possession. They responded well after the break, but the result wasn’t secured until Keane’s 82nd minute penalty gave them a two goal cushion. Ashley Cole looked uncomfortable on his debut and Gerrard, in particular, looked woefully out of sorts, though this was attributed to his decision to play through illness.

DC was a warning shot. So how would they respond?

On paper, the Rapids should have been an easy three points. But games in Colorado are not played on paper, they’re played at altitude (5,200 feet above sea level) and Galaxy were rightfully cautious in the opening exchanges, threatening just once when Keane flashed a header wide in the ninth minute.  Instead of taking the game to their hosts, they sat deep and held their shape, allowing widemen Shkëlzen Gashi and Dominque Badji to run at them.

It is fully 20 minutes before they flex their muscles, a neat exchange of passes between Keane and Robbie Rogers, returned to his natural left side in the absence of Cole, that should result in a goal. On the half hour, Gerrard floats a free-kick into the box and debutant Jelle van Damme slams it into the crossbar. But instead of heralding a period of domination for Galaxy, that chance was as close as they came to scoring.

Their two man midfield of Gerrard and De Jong certainly didn’t lack experience, but mobility was a problem.

De Jong still snaps about as he did for City, but Gerrard’s positional play has never been his strongest point,

Now that his pace is fading, it seems risky not to play him as part of a three. If there was a dominant midfielder here, it was Sam Cronin of Colorado. He seemed to be everywhere. Gerrard should be commended for getting through 90 minutes at breathless altitude so early in the season, but it was notable that his most influential contributions were set-pieces. Ahead of them, Mike Magee was anonymous. He scored two and made one against DC, but here he was withdrawn after 67 minutes.
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As the second half wore on, Galaxy looked to consolidate their point.

Conserving what remained of their energy, they fell back once again. Gashi went close on 51 minutes. De Jong squandered possession two minutes later and a promising break collapsed because Gashi had strayed offside.

Badji walloped one over the bar on the hour. The game seemed to be ebbing away. And then Pappa arrived. With fresh legs and abundant desire, he never stopped looking for the winner.

His perseverance was rewarded in emphatic style.

It is, of course, far too early to read much into Galaxy’s defeat, not least because of the altitude and the absence of a number of key players, including Cole, Giovani dos Santos and first choice goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. And this team are no strangers to a slow start. Last season, they won just three of their first 12 games. And they still reached the play-offs.

But it should be a concern that for all of Galaxy’s salary spending, their best player was back-up stopper Brian Rowe. It should be a concern that the midfield looked so pedestrian. And it should be a concern that they created so few chances of note against one of the weaker sides in the league.

If there is a conclusion to be drawn from this, it is that Galaxy need to improve.

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Iain Macintosh
Is a football writer for ESPNFC and the editor of  The Set Pieces

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