Armchair Analyst: LA Galaxy are good – but not yet as good as they should be
Here's what I wrote about the LA Galaxy in my season preview:
The best-case scenario for LA is that they stay healthy, they don't suffer any emotional lulls after the CCL (whatever the outcome) and World Cup (whatever the outcome) and basically stomp a mudhole into the rest of the league. This is the most talented roster in MLS, and should be expected to show as much.
So far, they're only showing it in fits and starts. They're not the best team in the league just yet – but I'm starting to feel like they're on their way.
Here are three thoughts from their 2-2 draw on the rug in Vancouver:
1. Getting the right support from their full backs
Dan Gargan, of all people, has turned into an attacking asset. LA switched to a 4-4-2 diamond from a flat-four midfield a few weeks back – a move originally made for defensive reasons – and have largely stuck with it throughout this month.
The advantage of the diamond midfield is that it provides you with a true No. 6 who can shield the central defense and initiate attacks from deep. I've always felt like this was Juninho's natural inclination, though I understand why Bruce Arena stuck with the flat-four midfield since LA kept winning all those pesky trophies.
The disadvantage of the diamond midfield is that you sacrifice width, both in attack and defense. I talked with now-former RSL coach Jason Kreis about it a couple years back, and he summed it up:
"We know, no matter what formation, you're going to give up something. We chose [width]."
So it's simple to know where your disadvantage is. What's hard is to know exactly how and when to fix it.
In RSL's case, they've always used one of their forwards to drift out wide in the final third, creating from that space. They also send their fullbacks forward fairly liberally, more often to support the attack than initiate it.
LA have done similarly. Both Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane prefer to drift wide to the left and combine, then cut into the central channel. Neither player particularly likes flaring out to the right and bending in crosses.
A.J. DeLaGarza on one side, and Gargan on the other have figured that out:
Gargan pushes waaaaay up on the right. He had a hand in the first goal, and nearly scored one himself with a rip from about 20 yards.
DeLaGarza on the left is much less aggressive. He's a safety valve for Donovan and Keane – they know that with him behind them, they can attempt a low-percentage play and not worry too much about turnovers. He frees them out out left in much the same way that Juninho frees them up in the center.
It's not humming along perfectly yet, but LA haven't lost since they've shifted formation. So let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
2. Direct and to the point
If you've read almost any of my articles, or seen any of my "Between the Lines" videos, you probably know that I love a target forward. I think ours is a simple game complicated by clever minds (I think that's an Alexi Lalas quote, but not 100 percent sure), and a dominant, cultured No. 9 can unspool many of those needless complications.
This is Rob Friend, and this is as simple as it gets:
Color commentator Cobi Jones did a nice job of highlighting Keane's movement. Anyone who grew up playing in Ireland or England knows that on a cross like that, if your guy wins it he's going to hit a cushioned header back across the six-yard box. This is straight out of 1980s England, and it's a club the Galaxy didn't have in the bag until the arrival of Friend and Samuel.
Also worth noting that it's Gargan, up on the right touchline, who drops the ball back to Omar Gonzalez on the initial cross. Like I said, he's getting waaaaaay up into the attack – even though, at this point, the Galaxy had abandoned the diamond.
3. Individual breakdowns in defense
Despite all the good stuff I'm seeing from the LA attack, they're not where I thought they'd be as a team. It's because their defense has alternated between wobbly and outright bad.
The "wobbly" part comes from when they have to chase speedy players into the corners. Nobody on the LA backline, no matter who's out there, has the speed to run with the league's real burners.
The "bad" part has come from when they've allowed said burners to get in behind. For a very good reason, the Galaxy are having trouble stepping up as one, and for two months now the way to beat the has been to invite them forward and play over the top.
Here's the very good reason:
— Taylor Twellman (@TaylorTwellman) April 20, 2014
DeLaGarza may actually be a better fullback than central defender – it's a possibility, though the jury's definitely still out. What I think is rock solid, however, is that LA as a whole, and the defense as a unit, are better when he's in central defense.
First of all, he's a security blanket for Gonzalez. And second, he's nowhere near as mistake-prone as Leonardo, who's earned the lion's share of time as Omar's partner.
This – which is too long to GIF – is just bad from the Brazilian:
Galaxy fans are nodding sadly right now. Nobody was exposed more vs. Tijuana than Leonardo, and while he's had a few good moments this year, these kinds of mistakes have become routine.
When usual left back Todd Dunivant finally gets healthy and reclaims his spot, don't be surprised to see DeLaGarza slide back into the middle. And at that point, the rest of the league should be on notice.