Diamond vision: LA Galaxy "neutralize" Real Salt Lake's vaunted midfield with new formation tweak
The LA Galaxy were seeking real quality in their game after that horrid first-half performance at Tijuana earlier in the week, but they were quite satisfied to come away from Rio Tinto Stadium with a point from a chippy 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
Coach Bruce Arena installed a new midfield system, a diamond meant to match up with RSL's, and LA were down a goal by the time they figured it out, about the 25th minute. Robbie Keane netted a neat first-half equalizer, and the Galaxy weathered difficult conditions, and injuries to two defenders, to snare their first point of the campaign.
“I thought it was a good performance, a good team performance,” Keane told the media afterwards. “Especially when you go a goal down to come back in the manner that we did and dominate the game in most points. Overall, a draw was probably a fair result.
“But a good response by the lads, and maybe last year we would have lost that game.”
LA left Alvaro Saborio criminally open to finish a free kick in the 19th minute, and they lost James Riley near the end of the first half and AJ DeLaGarza in the second half to injuries. The playing surface was far from pristine, and the altitude had its impact.
“Our guys showed a lot of character, the way they came back and got the goal,” Arena said. “I thought they played a good second half, and perhaps there's a chance or two there we could have been a little bit better with, but I think it's a fair result and real good effort by our team.
“Given the circumstances ... to get point out of it, it's a good result.”
RSL ended the Galaxy's MLS Cup three-peat hopes the last time the teams met at Rio Tinto, in last year's Western Conference semifinals, and RSL pulled out a 1-0 opening-day victory two weeks ago in Southern California, a game LA thoroughly dominated.
It helped breed a rivalry atmosphere in Sandy, with RSL fans presenting a tifo pointedly celebrating the victory over LA last November and loudly jeering LA as they left the field – and at Keane as he was interviewed on NBC Sports' telecast.
The game had that kind of feel, too – more testy than the free-flowing play often seen when these teams meet.
Landon Donovan roved on top of the Galaxy's diamond shape – the better, Keane said, to “stop [Kyle] Beckerman from getting on the ball and dictating the play” – with Juninho underneath, and Stefan Ishizaki and Baggio Husidic pinching inside from the flanks.
“Tijuana had five or six guys in the midfield [during their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series], and we got overrun,” said LA's Irish striker. “And Salt Lake plays a lot like that at times. We wanted to make sure that's where we put our emphasis. If the ball beat us wide, that was OK, but we weren't going to get beat down the middle.
“We did a good job of neutralizing them, and that's what you want when you play here.”
And on Saturday, that was enough.
“You can't win every game,” Keane noted. “Of course, you try to do that, but if it's not the case, you have to make sure you don't come away from here with nothing.”