CARSON, Calif. – When Bruce Arena fills out the starting XI for the LA Galaxy’s season-opening match against Seattle on March 15, one name that’s surely a lock to appear is Juan Pablo Angel.
How Arena fills the void next to Ángel – should he choose to fill it at all – will be something he must figure out in the remaining portion of preseason. During preseason, the Galaxy have played with either Ángel as the lone striker up top, with Landon Donovan alongside him or paired with Chad Barrett.
In the Galaxy’s most recent preseason match, Arena tested out two of these formations and added a wrinkle to one. The starting lineup against Club Tijuana last week featured a 4-2-3-1 formation with Ángel alone up top and Paolo Cardozo in the midfield alongside stars Donovan and David Beckham as well as established players Juninho and Chris Birchall.
To start the second half, Ángel and Barrett paired together. Miguel Lopez replaced Ángel midway through the second half and paired briefly with Barrett before Mike Magee came onto the match with López sliding into the midfield.
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For different parts of the second half then, the pairings were Ángel-Barrett, López-Barrett and Magee-Barrett. None of the forwards accounted for either of the two goals. Omar Gonzalez scored on a header off a corner kick while Donovan scored on a late counterattack.
There were noticeable differences in the two formations.
“We're just different stylistically,” Donovan said. “When Paolo plays, we're a little better with the ball in the midfield, a little more creative that way. When Chad was up there with Juan Pablo, it just gave us more of a physical presence and we were able to get on the end of crosses, hold the ball a little better, things like that.”
One slight quirk that Donovan noticed against Tijuana was the level of communication the team on the field. By playing Cardozo in the midfield, the team had three starters whose English-language skills have room to improve.
“When you have [central defender] Leonardo, Paolo and Juninho in the middle of the field, it's a little hard to communicate," Donovan said, "so we have to make sure we're doing a good job, making sure they're understanding certain words so that we can talk and communicate the right way. Sometimes we talk and they're not really understanding or they react late and it makes it difficult.”
The Galaxy will have one more opportunity to tinker with the formation in a semi-formal setting as the club will play UCLA in a scrimmage on Wednesday. But aside from that, LA must continue working on their pairings and tactics in training before heading to Qwest Field for the start of the 2011 MLS season.
“It's just different,” Donovan said, “and I know Bruce is still tweaking it and we've got to figure out which works best.”