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Depleted Galaxy Tries to Put Out Fire

TIMES STAFF WRITER

This is hardly the time for the Galaxy to be playing a nationally televised game against Major League Soccer’s defending champion.

Nonetheless, that’s what awaits Coach Sigi Schmid’s depleted team this afternoon when it takes on the Chicago Fire at Soldier Field.

Los Angeles (11-8) once again will be without three of its key players: Robin Fraser, Cobi Jones and Carlos Hermosillo. Fraser and Jones are with the U.S. national team in Mexico and Hermosillo is sidelined because of a back injury.

That puts a lot of the onus on Mauricio Cienfuegos, who is the most experienced and most skilled of the remaining starters.

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In a 1-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids in Denver on Wednesday night, the Salvadoran midfielder was not as involved in the Galaxy attack as he should have been. Primarily, it was because he was not receiving the ball often enough.

“I think Cien needs to see more of the ball than he saw tonight,” Schmid said after the game. “So that’s something that we’ve got to talk about and we’ve got to resolve.”

Cienfuegos is the team’s main playmaker, as his team-high 10 assists show, but he cannot provide service to forwards Clint Mathis and Seth George if he doesn’t receive the ball at the right time or in the correct fashion.

As a result, the Galaxy offense struggles. Mathis is the team’s leading goal scorer, but even he averages only a goal every three games.

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Another weak point exposed in Denver was the team’s inability to cross the ball in from the wings with the kind of precision necessary to break open MLS defenses.

“The quality of service from the flanks is something that has to improve,” Schmid said.

Against the Fire (10-8), the Galaxy probably will retain the formation it has been using lately, featuring three defenders, five midfielders and two forwards.

“We’re sort of playing a 3-5-2 right now,” Schmid said, “with E.Z. [defender Ezra Hendrickson] pushing up on the right. I think that’s working fairly well.”

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The Galaxy has won six of its last eight games but the loss to Colorado hampered its chances of catching the first-place Rapids in a tight Western Conference race.

“It was sort of a throwback to the beginning of the season when we couldn’t score,” Schmid said. “We had more possessions. We created more chances. It was just one of those days.”

The Fire knows the feeling. In its most recent game, on July 23, it was leading the San Jose Clash, 2-0, at home with 17 minutes to play and ended up losing, 3-2, in a shootout.

“We’re angry and frustrated,” Chicago Coach Bob Bradley said of the defeat. “We let a team back when we were up two goals and came away without any points. We have many issues to deal with, but clearly it’s as frustrating a night as we can have.”

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