Welcome back to the Thursday Q&A series, where we focus on one particular topic – today's being the fall of the Galactic empire – and ask you to react, share, and discuss in the comments section. However, feel free to ask about anything game-related (MLS, USL, NASL, USMNT, CanMNT, etc.) over the next several hours.
I'm about to submit two clips for your perusal, both from Portland's 5-2 demolition of the Galaxy last weekend. Both are similar plays - sustained passages of movement on and off the ball, building from back-to-front.
And the thing is, they happen one after another. I've broken up the entire sequence, but bear in mind that this happened all in the same point in the game.
Here's LA's attempt:
You see how Portland track Gyasi Zardes's run from start to finish, and how Diego Chara is right on the Galaxy attacker as he receives the ball? That's functional, energetic and effective midfield tracking, which directly supports the backline.
It also led to this semi-break heading in the other direction:
Notice the lack of pressure from the forwards, which allows for relaxed - almost languid - distribution from the back. Then notice how easy it is for Portland's Diego Valeri to receive the ball between the forward and midfield lines.
LA's midfield is so out of joint that Leonardo, a center back, is the one who has to step all the way up and pressure Valeri. But when he does, he gets no support from Gio dos Santos, who merely hangs out in the neighborhood of Diego Chara. Instead of applying pressure to the ball or closing lanes, dos Santos does nothing.
Valeri is thus able to turn and pick his pass. As soon as this happens, LA are now in "emergency defense" mode, because their shape is awful, their backline is compromised, and their forwards are applying no back-pressure.
By choosing to play square to Darlington Nagbe, Valeri seems to offer them a "get out of jail, free" card. Steven Gerrard and Juninho were both in good position to keep Nagbe bracketed if they applied immediate pressure, and Nagbe's preference for the safe pass is well established at this point in his career.
But... nothing. Gerrard jogs in Nagbe's direction, forcing Juninho to pop out of his "backline protector" role, and opens up a lane for Nagbe to shoot with a neat little pass to Fanendo Adi. Adi is all alone now because there's nobody left from the midfield to track back, and because Leonardo is still in recovery mode after stepping all the way forward to put any sort of pressure on Valeri.
This one didn't end up as a goal, but Maxi Urruti later scored on an eerily similar play to finish off the day's scoring. The Galaxy are getting no defense from their forwards and bad defense from their midfield, and are suffering for it.
Here's Galaxy manager Bruce Arena after the game:
“You look at the individual battles, their 11 against our 11. They thoroughly dominated us, in a physical nature, I'd say, more than anything. It wasn't tactical, it wasn't anything more than, I thought, their desire to win that game and fight and work was much greater than ours.”
Arena was right to make it an 11-v-11 issue, but leadership is supposed to come from the team's most veteran and best-paid players. To this point, both dos Santos and Gerrard have fallen short of the mark.
LA have their work cut out for them on #DecisionDay, when they travel to Kansas City to face Sporting (4 pm ET; ESPN | ESPN3). LA's already guaranteed a playoff berth, and will claim the second spot in the West if they get a win.
If they don't, they could fall as far as fifth. That means another game for weary legs, more travel, and a lack of homefield advantage for a team that went just 2-8-6 away from the StubHub Center this year.
The Galaxy's empire looks like it's starting to crumble.
Ok folks, thanks for helping me through a lovely Thursday!