Formation, tactics changes fire LA Galaxy to first win in nearly two months

CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy's swoon ended after nearly three months with an emphatic 3-0 romp over visiting Seattle Sounders FC, and it all came down to some savvy tactical shifts and the best effort they've given in some time.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic converted an early penalty kick, Ola Kamara finished a feed from Romain Alessandrini near the end of the first half, and Emmanuel Boateng took advantage of Roman Torres' miscue seven minutes into the second half to provide the goals, but Dominic Kinnear's first victory as Galaxy boss was built on a week's worth of work on some new things.

Kinnear shifted to a 4-4-2 formation, instructed his players to pressure Seattle higher up the field, and benefited from Dave Romney and Daniel Steres' connection in central defense as LA (11-11-8) won for the first time in eight games -- since a July 29 victory over Orlando City SC -- to boost their hopes of making it into the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Boateng tallied in his first start since the Sounders' 5-0 romp in Seattle last month and just his second start since early June, and Romney and Steres brought a stability long missing from the backline to lead the Galaxy to their seventh shutout of the season and first since a 4-0 win over Columbus back on July 7.

“It was kind of a do-or-die game for us, we had to win,” captain Ashley Cole said afterward in a festive LA locker room. “Today was probably our best performance. We played well, we moved the ball well, we defended well. It was, I think, the perfect game, the perfect result for us, what we needed now.”

The Galaxy pushed past Vancouver into seventh place in the Western Conference, just three points behind Seattle in the fight for the final playoff spot, with a showdown against the Whitecaps next weekend at StubHub.

Sebastian Lletget returned from injury and went nearly the difference as the attacking midfielder, with Jonathan Dos Santos holding behind him, and LA offered some impressive and, for this season, rare collective play to dominate most of the match.

“I thought we were the aggressor in the first five to 10 minutes, and we asked them to do that to hopefully set a tone for the rest of the game,” said Kinnear, in his second game as interim head coach after Sigi Schmid's departure. “Just wanted to try to defend in their half of the field, so we weren't sitting back too far -- especially the beginning -- and the energy coming out of the locker room was really good, and we got rewarded for it.”

The Galaxy sustained that energy most of the way, and the change of formation -- they have played primarily in 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-1-2 alignments this season -- had something to do with it.

Romney, who partnered Jorgen Skjelvik and Michael Ciani in the middle of last weekend's 5-3 loss at Toronto FC, said the “familiarity with the 4-4-2” was critical. Goalkeeper David Bingham agreed.

“A lot of it comes down to the formation shift we did,” he said. “We worked on it all week, and [when we took] the field, we buckled down.”

LA's movement with and without the ball was very good, and they put together some of their best passing sequences of the season.

“Seba and Jona in [central midfield], they controlled it, kept the ball well, switched the play well, dominated the midfield today,” Cole said. “That was important against people like [Sounders playmaker Nico] Lodeiro, who moves everywhere. It was important to stop him. We pressed, we won the ball back, we won the first and second balls.”

Romney has primarily played on the flanks this year, and Steres has been a backup to Ciani, who was on the bench, and Skjelvik, who was unavailable with the flu. They looked like they'd been playing together for years, which they have, but not as a central pairing since a September draw with Seattle last season.

“[It was] like old times, back at Galaxy II,” Romney said. “Me and Dan have probably played 30, 35 games together, so we're comfortable with each other, really good friends off the field. Always communicating, always talking.

“I think our playing styles work off each other well. He's really good at stepping and stuff, I'm really good at tracking behind, [and] today everything kind of worked out really well.”

The performance, as well as the victory, provided a huge boost in confidence. LA have four games left to find a spot in the top six.

“We know we can do it,” Cole said. “We're in the playoffs already. We can't lose a game, and it started well today with a shutout. ... Everyone has to work hard, everyone has to dig in, maybe do stuff they wouldn't normally do, but yeah, we're happy with this result.”