June 14 was a nice day for the Los Angeles Galaxy. The sun shone, nearly 40,000 fans turned up at McAfee Coliseum in Oakland and the Galaxy thumped three unanswered goals past the San Jose Earthquakes.
At the top of the Western Conference standings and with its big players starting to fire, Major League Soccer's most high-profile team appeared to finally get its act together on the field.
Three months later, the Galaxy has reached arguably the lowest point of its tumultuous history. Saturday's 2-0 defeat to the Kansas City Wizards was L.A.'s 12th straight game without a win, a club record for ineptitude that is mutating into a monster.
That June day in Oakland seems so long ago that the Galaxy must feel like it happened to someone else. In some ways it did.
Back then, Bruce Arena was taking it easy at home, Ruud Gullit was in the dugout, Alexi Lalas was overseeing the whole operation and Carlos Ruiz was still a Los Angeles player.
Now Arena is the man who has inherited the almighty mess. Although he knew he faced a big task when he came in last month, the former United States national team coach must have been shocked as to just how bad things really are.
This is a team that simply can't defend. To put things into some sort of context, no team in MLS has conceded more than 49 goals in a season since 2005. The strikes by Josh Wolff and Davy Arnaud for the Wizards on Saturday meant the Galaxy has already conceded 49 goals this season with six games to go.
L.A.'s run-and-gun strategy just doesn't work against MLS defenses that are not blessed with exceptional talent but are generally well-drilled. Making up for defensive deficiencies by outscoring opponents might work with a team full of stars, but David Beckham, Landon Donovan and a couple of decent attackers will not guarantee you a glut of goals.
Virtually every personnel decision made by the Galaxy over the past year was about offense. Defender Chris Albright was traded away to New England in return for allocation money that enabled the signing of Carlos Ruiz. That's right, the same Ruiz that got injured in the season opener in Colorado and was sent off during a loss in Toronto.
But even with bad decisions and a few bad breaks, L.A.'s scale of failure is staggering when you consider MLS is one of the most even leagues in world soccer. Arena claims to have been pleased by the attitude of his players since he arrived at the club. However, it is surely only a matter of time before he grows tired of losing and starts ruling with more of an iron fist.
If some attacking play has to be sacrificed, then so be it. There may be no other way to resurrect this team from the miserable situation engulfing it. How that sits with the owners of an organization that sees itself as an international brand and not just a team remains to be seen.
The optimists point out that, with six games left, there are still plenty of chances for the Galaxy to sneak into the playoffs.
If by some miracle the team suddenly reinvents itself into a cohesive unit overnight and creeps into the postseason, newfound success should not change the fact that Arena needs to be a busy man during the winter months.
There is no quick fix for this crisis. One or two changes will not cut it. Arena needs to rebuild from the ground up with a heavy emphasis on defense, and he needs to seek out players with the tools and the mentality to stifle an opponent.
It may not be the glamorous way or the fan-friendly way or the way that best maximizes the huge investment made in Beckham. But if the Galaxy wants to win and salvage the season, it is the only way.
- Carlos Ruiz
- Bruce Arena