Young Stars Shine in LA Loss
By Alex Fairchild
On 14 points, the Los Angeles Galaxy sit six points adrift of Western Conference leader's FC Dallas.
Last night was a struggle for Bruce Arena's team, however. While they dominated the early going, they lacked the ability to finish off the Houston Dynamo. Landon Donovan's return to the side has helped the team for the better, but the absence of Robbie Keane hindered the team on the night. The senior trio of Mike Magee, Donovan, and Keane were integral weeks ago when LA defeated Sporting KC 2-0, though their vile was not on display at the Home Depot Center Sunday evening.
However, Keane's leave has given Arena the option to throw Jose Villarreal into the firing line. The 19 year old did well against the Dynamo, though his performance was highlighted by the penalty he earned for Donovan on 24 minutes. Villarreal ran off the shoulder of Houston center back Jermaine Taylor, while collecting a well-shaped through-ball from Landon. The youngster attempted to round keeper Tally Hall, though he was taken out by the Houston No. 1's careless challenge. While the veteran failed to capitalize from the spot, it was the future who created the opportunity for his teammate.
Moments earlier, Charlie Rugg's header beat Hall, but the bar as well. He paired with Villarreal last night and looked to hold play up for the Galaxy, as he often did for squad members during his years at Boston College. The nod was the his best chance of the night. Both sides struggled to get quality chances on goal. Despite getting off a combined 33 attempts, the Dynamo an Galaxy only hit the target twice a piece.
The 19th overall pick in the draft, Rugg, was replaced by Gyasi Zardes. In his second appearance of the year, the 21 year old, with a distinguishable hairstyle should have scored, though his effort from close range was blocked by Hall, who was solid when called upon. Zardes' movement was sound for the remaining half hour or so, as the man who topped NCAA scoring charts during his collegiate career looked to bypass Villarreal and Rugg on the depth chart.
Youth, of course, is the common denominator for these three attackers. All under the age of 22, they are members of the one of the best development programs in MLS. Villarreal, a homegrown signing by the Galaxy is a talented player who represented the MLS Cup winners 10 times last year. In his second appearance, his angled drive from 18 yards saw his side earn a 2-2 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps. His patience and skill were on display in his strike, as he used superb awareness to see the defender pass by before he cut in for the equalizer. His technical ability has got him to this point and his deft touch by Tally Hall would have seen him score easily, with two helpless Dynamo defenders keeping the goal from the teenager's mercy.
Up top with Rugg, the two could be a special combination in the starting XI come the future. Due to a senior year hampered by injury, Rugg was unable to contribute to BC as much as he would have liked. He was a former ironman for the Eagles, starting every match during his sophomore and junior years. If hamstring and knee issues fail to hold him back, Rugg's potential is sky high. He is a powerful forward who led an ACC squad in goals. His performance last night lacked the final touch, which he so displayed against Real Salt Lake a week earlier. Scoring 13 minutes into the match, the young Rugg was positioned well to tap in a low drive from Hector Jimenez.
However, the former BC man and Villarreal have lots still to learn. On a few occasions, their runs proved hesitant. Though the 19 year old was able to get behind the Dynamo back four to earn a spot kick, the man who missed that penalty attempted to send crosses in a couple of times to both strikers. Had their movement been better the Galaxy may have tacked one on, though the young guns and the rest of the side lacked the knowledge and some the experience to make those critical, intricate tactical runs. However, those will surely come with time.
Despite the 1-0 defeat at home, Arena must be happy with his side's future. Though they lacked the finishing quality required on the night, the future of the Galaxy's front line is as bright as the stars. If they can hold onto these players and keep them healthy, the club will be feared in the league for years to come. Perhaps Frank Lampard will come into the fold to support them in a year's time.
With these men striking away, Los Angeles will have no trouble hanging onto their top-dog status in MLS.