In the last two games of the regular season, Los Angeles Galaxy coach Steve Sampson tweaked his lineup just a bit. Instead of pairing Landon Donovan with budding star Hercules Gomez up top, Joseph Ngwenya has lined up as the second forward with Gomez. And as a result, Donovan has been pushed back into the midfield, playing wide right.
In theory the move gives the Galaxy a talented and creative player in the midfield, whose speed on the flank should open up more space in the middle for the forwards to operate. Instead, what's been problematic in the last two games is the Galaxy's propensity for the back four to play a very direct style, often bypassing the midfield all together. As a result, Donovan, and the rest of the midfield have been a virtual non-factor in the attack.
"We don't necessarily need to play a direct style of play against San Jose. We need to possess the ball more. We have to make sure we possess the ball and really dictate the speed of play, making sure that when we send guys through, that they have a purpose," said Galaxy 'keeper Kevin Hartman. "When we've had success against San Jose it's been because we've been able to hold the ball and involve our midfielders and let them dictate the flow of the game."
One major focus that Galaxy coach Steve Sampson has heading into this weekend is trying to involve Donovan more in the attack. With the exception of a second half penalty kick, Donovan was seemingly absent for much of the game against San Jose last weekend.
Sampson himself said he needs to find a way to make Donovan an integral part of the offense. Whether that means moving Donovan out of midfield and back up top, or changing his tactics remains to be seen.
"It's pretty apparent we need to get Landon the ball more," said Sampson. "Landon's the type of player that loves to see the ball and does good things with it. It behooves us to make sure we get him the ball a lot more."
Donovan's harshest critic just might be himself. Like everyone else, he knows he needs to step it up if the Galaxy is going to enjoy any sort of success in the playoffs.
"It doesn't matter if I play up top, or in the midfield, or I play in the back. If I don't do the job, that's on me," he said. "Wherever I play it's on me to do my job. Regardless of where I play I just need to be better. I'm fully aware of that and I will be better on Sunday."
Getting Donovan more involved is just one piece of getting the midfield involved. Sampson knows this and has hinted another lineup change could be in the works for Sunday.
"I think our midfield, especially in the first half (last weekend), needed to do a better job of finding those spaces in order to hold the ball and find a connection with the front runners," said Sampson. "It's just a matter of finding the right combination."
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.