Thus far in the 2006 season, Los Angeles Galaxy head coach Steve Sampson has had a hard time settling on the right personnel and formation for his team. He began the year playing a 4-4-2 and recently switched to a 4-3-3 to try and revamp the offense, and in addition to the formation change, players have swapped positions all year long like a game of musical chairs.
"We tinker with the lineup all the time, so it's very difficult to figure out some sort of consistency," said goalkeeper Kevin Hartman earlier this week in training.
In the Galaxy's first six games Sampson hasn't sent out the same starting 11 twice. While some of the changes can be attributed to injury, the majority are the result of reacting to poor performances on the field. And a few other changes were nothing short of bold experiments.
This past weekend in New England, one such experiment fell far short of what the Galaxy were looking for. In anticipation of Chris Albright leaving for the World Cup with the U.S. national team, Sampson went in search of a replacement right back.
He tested rookie Kyle Veris on the right side of defense and lined Albright up as a wide forward in the Galaxy system that resembled a 4-3-3. Veris showed he wasn't comfortable out wide, Albright was forced to play more defense than a forward should, and the Galaxy formation quickly took on the look of a 4-5-1 with Herculez Gomez all alone up top.
The end result was moving Albright into the right back position at halftime, but the damage was already done as the Galaxy entered the locker room down 3-0 after the first 45 minutes.
"The idea was to start to prepare for when Chris (Albright) is gone," said Sampson. "Chris, having played that position both for the national team and as a pro, I was hoping it would have produced more than it did."
The question is: what begets what? Do poor performances lead to lineup changes, or do lineup changes lead to poor performances? But Galaxy captain Pete Vagenas is quick to jump to the defense of his coach.
"If things were going the way they should be we could leave the same 11 on the field," said Vagenas. "Coaches are forced to make changes because players aren't doing their jobs."
Vagenas said the onus is on the players to prove that they belong in the Galaxy starting 11.
"It's a reflection on us as players and on us as a team not achieving the standards set," he said. "Players aren't claiming stakes to their positions. Who's going to put together a month of good performances?"
With two games on tap this week, it's reasonabl to expect two more different starting lineups. Wednesday night against FC Dallas, it's unlikely the same lineup will be on the field that started against New England, after the results of that game. And then Saturday, Sampson will be forced to mix it up again as both Landon Donovan and Albright leave to join the U.S. national team.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.