Switch back to flat-four midfield paying dividends for LA Galaxy with emergence of Kenney Walker

Bruca Arena not so happy

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USA Today

CARSON, Calif. – Bruce Arena says formations don't matter, so he hasn't much to say – at least not publicly – about how or why the LA Galaxy have twice this year altered what they do in midfield, nor on what they've reaped from the shifts.

Earlier this season, the Galaxy swapped out of their customary flat-four midfield for a diamond, getting four central midfielders into the lineup after falling in the CONCACAF Champions League to a Club Tijuana team that packed the middle of the park, and gave a few dominant performances.

They've gone back to a flat midfield in the last few weeks, building momentum with back-to-back victories over FC Dallas and Philadelphia before last week's steamy draw in Chicago.

The impetus seems to be the promotion of third-year midfielder Kenney Walker, who had played in just one Major League Soccer game before the May 21 romp over Dallas, to a starting job.

Walker is a pure holding midfielder, and he's done fine work sitting in next to Juninho in front of a back four missing World Cup-bound leader Omar Gonzalez.

"For me in particular, it's much better," said Juninho. "For me to score goals and go forward, try to create many chances for our team, this is my style of play. ... In the diamond, I'm holding midfield, so I have to stay in front of our backline.

"[The flat midfield is] old form, so the team is very familiar with that."

Arena doesn't see things in such terms. He won't even agree that it is a flat midfield.

"What's a flat midfield? You think that's what we play, four across?" he said as the Galaxy began preparations this week for Sunday's SuperClasico against Chivas USA (8 pm ET; UDN). "It's actually not like that. There might be two sitting and then two above them wide. That's not a flat line."

Semantics, of course, and Arena said that the shifting alignments are about players "moving in positions that are more natural for them. That's all. The so-called diamond becomes so-called flat. It all varies, depending on movement."

The diamond worked best when Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan were up top. Both like to drop deep, allowing for immense interchange among the front six, and that movement confounded opposing defenses while the numerical advantage in midfield made LA's defensive third, when things were working, nearly impenetrable.

When flat, Juninho usually is teamed with Marcelo Sarvas.

"I think Marcelo has my style,” Juninho said. “He loves to go forward and score goals. Kenney is a very good passer, and he holds midfield more than me. I think that's the difference."

Sarvas, who was sidelined with a knee injury, returned to action last week and could get his first start Sunday in seven weeks. That could mean a shift back to a diamond.

"I think it doesn't really matter," said Stefan Ishizaki, who usually plays at the top of the diamond or on the right flank in a flat formation. "We need movement to play the ball well. ... I think both suit us well. I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference."