CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy’s dominance in one-sided victories over the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers was aided by their opponents’ approach. Both foes prefer to attack, and both tried, with no real success, to match the Galaxy’s offensive ideals.
The San Jose Earthquakes had no interest in going toe-to-toe with LA last Friday, bunkering around their penalty area and counterattacking, with great success, when the opportunity arrived. The Galaxy struggled to break down their California Clasico rivals' defensive scheme and settled for a 2-2 draw that Landon Donovan said "feels like a loss."
Did the Quakes provide the template for how to stop the Galaxy when they are dictating every facet of play, as they have in four of their past five MLS matches? Perhaps.
"I would imagine," Donovan said when asked if LA could expect such an approach the rest of the season. "And you have to give [San Jose] credit: They defended very well, especially at the end. For them to come in and be up a goal twice was probably a little surprise, and they did well when they did that, to kind of conserve the point that they wanted to get. That’s a big point, and you have to give them credit for that."
The Galaxy might get a hint when play Saturday night at Columbus (7:30 pm ET, MLS Live), but coach Bruce Arena thinks the bunker approach is business as usual.
"A lot of teams do that do us, it’s not like it’s anything new. We see that a lot ...," he said. "If you put your whole team behind then ball, even if you don’t have a good team, they’re going to be hard to break down. We’ll find out [if more teams do this] as we play. Some will, some won’t."
The Galaxy have had nearly constant possession over the past month or so, and they netted five goals against New England and three each against Seattle and Portland. They outshot the Quakes, 24-3, but weren’t particularly sharp, put only six shots on frame, and San Jose blocked another nine shots while repeatedly cutting off attacks inside their box.
"It’s hard to break teams down ...," Donovan acknowledged. "And they defended very well when they were in good blocks and good position, and also their emergency defending was very good. When they had to make plays, they made plays. We put them under a lot of pressure, but they didn’t break."
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The acquisition of 6-foot-3 forward Alan Gordon, in a trade Monday with the Quakes, gives LA another weapon when face bunkers. Gordon provides needed size for a team that – Omar Gonzalez, Gyasi Zardes and reserves Rob Friend, Tommy Meyer and Leonardo aside – isn’t particularly big.
"If you have guys whipping in ball, he can pretty much get to a lot of things that most guys can’t get to, because of his size," Gonzalez said. "When teams are sitting deep on us and just putting 10 guys behind the ball, hopefully we can put the ball out wide and find him inside the 18."
Gonzalez said such a defensive approach isn’t "going to work every single time," but the Quakes provided a lesson other rivals will have to consider.
"I think that we’re a really good team, and other teams around the league are starting to see that," he said. "Maybe they want to press for the counter, but we’re definitely now a lot more aware of that, so we’ll be able to stop it for the future. We’ll continue to get the ball wide, keep on crossing balls and scoring goals.
"We’re, obviously, going to be get our chances, but now we have to be more lethal and more deadly and score every chance we get."