Back in the playoffs, back at home and with maybe the most exciting young player in the league.
A GIF is worth a thousand words:
The Galaxy, in Year 2 of the Greg Vanney era, started to look more and more like a Greg Vanney team as the season progressed. That meant more and longer strings of possession, more pretty soccer, more scoring chances (not many more goals, though, which we’ll get to in a minute), and more counters headed at high speed in the other direction.
It was all very fun to watch, but at times it clearly was not particularly good. And then the summer transfer window happened.
With the acquisitions of Gaston Brugman, Martin Caceres and especially Riqui Puig, suddenly the Galaxy’s talent – up the spine, anyway – matched their identity. They went from pretty on the ball to pretty and lethal on the ball, with Puig conjuring scoring chances for Chicharito and the rest of the front-runners from thin air.
It was beautiful soccer, and by the last six weeks of the season it also became highly effective soccer.
Formation and Tactics
There were times when the Galaxy played a 4-4-2, and there were times when they played a 3-4-2-1, and there were times that we were all absolutely begging them to play a 3-5-2 since that was the best way to get both Chicharito and Dejan Joveljic – the only two reliable goalscorers on the team – onto the field together. It seemed so, so obvious that the personnel fit that formation best.
But Vanney mostly stuck with the 4-2-3-1 despite the glaring lack of production from his very expensive and very underwhelming winger corps.
Whatever the formation, the Galaxy almost always tried to dominate with the ball. As per TruMedia via StatsPerform they were second in the league in possession and led the league in touches, passing accuracy, expected assists and passes in the final third (by a mile). They had the highest number of passes per possession and the largest number of possessions totaling nine or more passes.
You get the idea.
There were some very good moments early – Efra Alvarez’s golazo in Charlotte, or the 3-1 win at Portland followed by a 2-1 El Trafico win. The vibes were clearly very good.
But if there’s one play, one moment from 2022 that’s going to stick in my head and represent everything the Galaxy became, and everything they can be in 2023 and beyond, it’s this:
Puig arrived like a bolt of lightning and elevated what was already one of the league’s better attacks to a place among the very best. They lost just once in their final 11 games from mid-August onwards, a span that included three wins and a draw in their final four games to seal a playoff appearance in Carson for the first time since 2016.
They rewarded their fans – I refuse to call Galaxy fans “long-suffering,” by the way – with a dominant performance (even though it didn’t show on the scoreboard) and a 1-0 Round One win over Nashville.
Their next game out, after dispatching the ‘Yotes, was a trip up the 110 to downtown LA for the latest edition of El Trafico. And the Galaxy… they fought, man. They played lots of very good soccer in this game, a display that included a worldie from Joveljic after a glorious, 13-pass build-up from the Gs.
Armchair Analyst: Galaxy lowlight
There are three clips there:
- In the first, Julian Araujo loses possession and then doesn’t react at all in transition as Denis Bouanga, who is ostensibly Araujo’s guy, scores at the back post. Also on that play, CB Sega Coulibaly jumps off the backline for no reason I can discern, which lets Kwadwo Opoku ghost in and get the touch that puts it on Bouanga’s foot.
- In the second, Coulibaly panics under pressure from Opoku and needlessly concedes a corner.
- In the third, LAFC score off the corner after no one picks up Bouanga at the back post, and no one stays on their toes to clear a potential rebound.
The Galaxy were much more susceptible to moments like this than the teams that advanced to the Conference Finals. They lost in the way they were expected to lose.
Also, Chicharito’s failed panenka against Sporting KC was definitely a (hilarious) lowlight.
Holy crap, Dejan Joveljic! The 23-year-old No. 9 put up 11g/3a in just 983 regular-season minutes, and then did this in his late cameo against LAFC:
On a per-90 level, he was the single best center forward in the league this year, and while a lot of that was overperformance – he’s going to regress to the mean next year whether he plays 1,000 minutes or 3,000 minutes – he’s in the 93rd percentile for non-penalty expected goals per 90. So a lot of what he did is sustainable.
He was, without question, the best backup center forward in the league this year.
If Joveljic’s Year 2 breakout proved the David Gass Theorem, then Kevin Cabral’s Year 2 regression (from a not-particularly-high bar) called it into question. The DP winger managed just 1g/3a in 1,700 regular-season minutes and justifiably lost his starting job by the end of the year thanks to some of the most hellacious scuffed chances I have ever seen in this league.
But wait, there’s more! Because Cabral wasn’t even the only disappointing DP winger on this team, as winter signing Douglas Costa played for the Galaxy exactly as he did for Gremio: slow, selfish and disinterested. He managed just a shade over 1,400 regular-season minutes and produced only 4g/2a (he also picked up an assist in the playoffs). He went 90 only twice.
Samuel Grandsir was marginally better than those two and produced in the playoffs with a goal and an assist. But overall, from their three top wingers – two DPs and a TAM guy! – the Galaxy managed just 9g/12a across both the regular season and playoffs combined.
There is a reason Vanney heard so many calls to start Chicharito and Joveljic together.
Five Players to Build Around
- Puig (AM): He might actually be a wizard, though they really do have to work with him on his defensive transition awareness.
- Brugman (DM): Sure looked like one of the 10 best d-mids in the league – maybe even top five or so.
- Mark Delgado (CM): Had a brilliant if understated season as a run-everywhere, do-everything No. 8. Getting him for up to $500k GAM from Toronto was such a steal.
- Chicharito (FW): Put in a durable, 18g/2a season in spite of turning 34 in the middle of it. He’ll be back for at least one more year and looks far from cooked.
- Joveljic (FW): If Vanney doesn’t at least double this kid’s minutes, he’s made a massive mistake.
There’s a lot on the front office’s plate. They’re probably going to sell Julian Araujo this winter – which they should; at some point they’ve got to make good on that academy* pipeline, and there is overseas interest in Araujo – which means they have to replace their right back, and they could definitely upgrade in goal as well. Plus, like everyone else, they’ll be on the hunt for center backs (the Galaxy have spent a lot of money on that spot over the past five years with subpar ROI).
(*) Araujo’s not technically a Homegrown, but close enough.
In terms of personnel, though, the answer is clear: They have to buy out Costa and bring in a Best XI-caliber DP winger. Yes, that means one more year of Cabral, but if I’ve got to keep one of the two, it’s Cabral all day.
Beyond that, though, it’s been reported by many and sources at the club confirmed to me that LA’s front-office structure is antiquated. They lack scouts; they lacked a film room before Vanney was there; they still have no analytics department to speak of, and there is no clear path from the academy to Los Dos to the first team because communication is abysmal.
There needs, in other words, to be a concerted effort to professionalize the club. If they do that, then maybe there won’t be so many wasted signings (like Costa and Cabral, or Giancarlo Gonzalez and Yony Gonzalez, or Jorgan Skjelvik and Emiliano Insua) in the first place.
And at that point, the Galaxy become the Galaxy again.