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Galaxy Is Far From Relevant

Somewhere along the line this season, the strings have become entangled and the Galaxy puppets have lost their way.

In such cases, it is easy to blame the puppets, even though the blame really belongs to the puppet masters.

Elsewhere in the soccer world, fans would be berating an underachieving team. They would be all over a highly paid star who fades in and out of games and plays only when he feels like it. They would rip into a coach whose constant tinkering with lineups and formations suggests that he has no clear vision or plan.

In short, they would be angry and demanding change. But there is far too little anger at the Home Depot Center.

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None at all, in fact.

Galaxy fans are a forgiving bunch. Timid is another way to put it. Their team wins one week and loses the next. The pattern is repeated all season long, with a few ties thrown in for good measure. The fans shrug and wander off into the night. Passion is sadly lacking in Carson.

They don’t expect much and, as a result, they have not received much. A .500 team is what they have and it’s about all they deserve.

The Galaxy once set out to be the flagship of Major League Soccer, the club against which all others would be measured.

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The team got itself a new stadium, but it turns out to be not the “cathedral of soccer” as MLS Commissioner Don Garber called it, but rather a place where a little soccer is played in between rock concerts, motocross, X-Games and other field-ruining events aimed at keeping revenue flowing for owner AEG. The team got itself a new star, but Landon Donovan has yet to show the style of play that brought him a league-high salary of almost $1 million a year. In fact, he is a far better player with the U.S. national team than he is with the Galaxy, and that raises several questions.

Is it a matter of motivation? World Cup qualifiers, understandably, are far more significant than MLS regular-season games, especially in a league where only the truly inept teams -- are you listening, Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake? -- don’t make the playoffs.

Or is it a matter of how Donovan is being used? With the U.S., he is a deep-lying or withdrawn forward who creates goals and scores them. With the Galaxy, he is ... well, no one is really sure.

One game he is played as an out-and-out forward, the next he is played in midfield. One game he has a central role, the next he is played out wide. Other Galaxy players have been similarly jerked around from one position to another.

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Donovan, like his fans, does not complain. Yet if push came to shove, AEG would retain its star before it retained Coach Steve Sampson. Like the Galaxy fans, Donovan needs to raise his voice a little.

Leadership is lacking on the team. That much is clear. There is not a single player out there who demonstrably takes charge of the team on the field. There is no player yelling at his teammates and demanding more of them. It is as if every decision has to come from the sideline.

And that is not soccer, which should be about on-field spontaneity and creativity and improvisation. What the Galaxy provides -- with rare exceptions when the players cut the puppet strings, as in the recent victory over the Colorado Rapids -- is robot-soccer, predictable and not particularly exciting.

Swing the ball out wide to the right wing, cross it into the middle and hope for someone to get a head or foot on it. Repeat ad infinitum, that’s the formula.

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It is difficult for fans to cheer when they are yawning.

Fortunately, the Galaxy has a defense that makes every game an adventure. For every goal that Donovan or 2005 revelation Herculez Gomez provide, the back line can be sure to allow the opposition just as many.

Sampson has chopped and changed his defense so often over the last seven months and has mistakenly relied on rookies to hold their own, that in 30 games the Galaxy has only six shutouts, four of them against the hapless expansion teams, Chivas and Real.

Similarly, some highly touted acquisitions have failed to deliver and now are consigned to the reserve team until such time as they can be unloaded.

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Add it all up and it is not a season to remember.

The Galaxy might well win the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night when it plays FC Dallas in the final.

Some will claim that vindicates all that has gone before. They would be wrong.

The Galaxy might well win the MLS championship. It does not take a great leap of imagination to see the team reaching the MLS Cup final in Dallas on Nov. 13.

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Some will claim that proves things have been done the right way. They would be wrong.

Something is missing in Carson.

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GALAXY TONIGHT

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Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final

vs. Dallas, 8, GolTV

Site -- Home Depot Center.

Radio -- 830.

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Records (MLS) -- Galaxy 12-12-6, FC Dallas 12-9-7.

Record vs. FC Dallas -- 1-2.

Update -- The U.S. Open Cup, founded in 1914, is the country’s oldest soccer tournament and is open to all American teams, amateur and professional. The Galaxy won it in 2001 and FC Dallas won it in 1997. Galaxy Coach Steve Sampson said defensive midfielder Paulo Nagamura was questionable because of a bruised right leg. Dallas will be without injured striker Eddie Johnson, and Coach Colin Clarke said forward Carlos Ruiz was questionable because of a knee injury. Neither Johnson nor Ruiz played last Wednesday night when Dallas defeated the Galaxy, 4-1, in an MLS game at Frisco, Texas. Attendance will be limited to 10,000 because Cal State Dominguez Hills classes are in session, meaning fewer parking spots are available.

Tickets -- (877) 342-5299

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-- Grahame L. Jones


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