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Playoff-bound Galaxy saddled with more problems than solutions

Playoff-bound Galaxy saddled with more problems than solutions
Galaxy forward Robbie Keane, battling FC Dallas midfielder Carlos Gruezo, says he's not ready for the season to end with a quick playoff exit. (Ting Shen / Dallas Morning News via AP)

Something is wrong with the Galaxy.

Actually, take that back. A lot of things are wrong with the Galaxy. And one of the problems is, no one seems to know exactly what needs to be fixed, much less how to do it.

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"There's a lot of things that need to get better and that need to be addressed," Landon Donovan said last week.

"It's setting a few things aside and realizing … if we don't wake up, we're going home," veteran Mike Magee said.

The Galaxy should set their alarms for Oct. 26 then because that's when the MLS playoffs begin; the team likely will open with a knockout-round game at the StubHub Center. That leaves the Galaxy with just two regular-season games to correct whatever ails them if they hope to make their postseason last longer than the 90-minute stay they had a year ago.

The team headed into the two-week international break having lost two games in a row for the first time this season, one in a rout and the other in a shutout. It has won just two of its last 13 games, the worst slump in Bruce Arena's nine seasons as coach. And the Galaxy haven't won consecutive games in nearly three months.

In an effort to find out why, Arena is meeting privately with each player during the break.

"The most important thing is get them to talk," Arena said. "And if they talk, it gets very interesting."

The Galaxy also held a team dinner — their second of the season — at a Venice restaurant last Tuesday, an outing some players hope will bring together a team still searching for unity nearly 10 months after its first game.

"Just being out with one another and enjoying our time together, that helps the relationships on the field," said defender A.J. DeLaGarza, who has played 202 regular-season games for the Galaxy under Arena, more than any other player. "This year, more than any other year I've been here, guys are too far spread around L.A. So it's tough to have those off-the-field relationships.

"It's good to get everybody together on the same page."

There have been times this season when the Galaxy didn't appear to be reading from the same book, much less the same page. A broken foot has sidelined Gyasi Zardes, while injuries and international duty limited designated players Steven Gerrard, Giovani dos Santos and Robbie Keane to just 10 starts together — only two of which saw all three contribute to the scoring.

And each time one of the three returned to the lineup, there was an awkward period of readjustment. In the middle of all that, Nigel de Jong left for Turkey, unsettling a defense that has conceded 13 goals in its last six games. And then there's a locker room that has divided into at least three cliques based largely on age and experience.

That's not unusual, of course. Any group larger than two, from a kindergarten class to the cast of "Survivor," generally separates into smaller groups based on some trait or affinity.

"I've always had that. And it'll never disappear," said Arena, a Hall of Fame coach with more than four decades of experience.

Complicating matters this time, though, has been the return of Donovan, who brought a red-hot media spotlight with him, unexpectedly redirecting attention away from the rest of the team. His decision to come out of retirement happened so quickly, the team leaders — including veterans Gerrard and Keane, the team captain — had no time to prepare.

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It's been an especially frustrating season for the 36-year-old Keane. He retired from the Irish national team last month and will finish an injury-plagued MLS regular season this month with career lows for games, goals and assists. Moreover, his contract with the Galaxy ends when the season does, and the Galaxy have been publicly silent on whether they will ask him to return.

"Are human beings jealous? Yes," Arena said. "It is tough. No question about it. [But] I think a large majority of the players are very supportive of [Donovan] being here.

"I'm more concerned about the presidential election than Landon's presence on our team."

Winning will solve all that, of course. And if those are the negatives, there still are plenty of positives around on which the Galaxy can build their playoff push.

Only Colorado has fewer losses than the Galaxy's six, for example, while no Western Conference team has scored more goals than the Galaxy's 53. And MVP candidate dos Santos is one of just two MLS players with double-digit totals for both goals (14) and assists (12).

Those are numbers other teams would celebrate, veteran forward Alan Gordon said in a plea for perspective.

"It's still important to look at our team as a whole," he said. "You lose two games in a row, and there's a huge issue. I don't think there's a huge issue.

"We have the players. It's just who has the right chemistry. And getting the right squad on the field [fighting] for each other. The best is yet to come."

Keane agreed.

"It doesn't matter what happened before. It's about what we do now," he said. "If you don't win, you go home. It's simple as that.

"I don't want to go home in November, October. My son has to stay in school until Dec. 18. I want to stay here with him."

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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