LA Galaxy see "better soccer" from 4-3-3 shape despite loss to Red Bulls

CARSON, Calif. – Zlatan Ibrahimovic's presence could be decisive as the LA Galaxy look to return to glory following last year's disaster – and a couple of disappointing campaigns that preceded it.

But it also has presented head coach Sigi Schmid and his staff with a few headaches as they try to figure out the best way to utilize the Swedish superstar and the other talent that surrounds him.

Schmid trotted out a 4-4-2 in Ibrahimovic's first two MLS starts, pairing him with Norwegian striker Ola Kamara, and it didn't really fit the personnel. He tried something different in Saturday night's 3-2 defeat to the New York Red Bulls and possibly found a solution.

The Galaxy attacked with greater fluidity than they have in all but the final half-hour of the comeback win over LAFC this season, using a 4-3-3 alignment that had Kamara and winger Romain Alessandrini flanking Ibrahimovic, with a finally healthy Giovani dos Santos tucked in behind and Sebastian Lletget in a deeper role, as a No. 8 in place of injured Jonathan dos Santos.

“I thought it helped us. I thought we played better soccer,” Schmid said in his postgame media session. “I thought Ola did a lot of work on the side, showed that he could score goals coming from there as well. Lletget playing deeper in midfield did a lot of the two-way playing that sometimes we got from Jonathan when he plays. I was pleased with the soccer that we played.”

It wasn't perfect, but there was much to like. Kamara – fully healthy, he said, for the first time since returning a month ago from Norwegian national team duty with a hip-flexor injury – was more dynamic attacking from the left flank than he's been up front.

Making his first start since suffering a hamstring injury on March 11, Giovani showed flashes of what makes him special. Alessandrini fought valiantly, and with some success, despite the close attention of Red Bulls left back Kemar Lawrence. And Lletget looked like a natural in a post he's played very rarely for LA.

“A lot of guys felt more comfortable, and the fluidity was much better, especially with the ball,” Lletget noted. “Off the ball, we still need to get better, but it will come.”

Hampered by an offseason rebuild and injury issues that have impacted chemistry, the Galaxy have struggled to find a consistently cohesive attack, with Ibrahimovic still adjusting to the group while building his fitness and form.

The team looked closer to the ideal Saturday than it has all year, creating four goals – just two of them counted, and perhaps another should have – and coming close a few more times.

“As a group, just the final decision-making needs to get better, but that's if they can play together more,” Schmid said. “This is the first time this formation played together. It's the first time Ola Kamara and Romain and Ibra and Gio were on the field together [aside from the last 25 minutes of the Atlanta United loss a week earlier]. I think it's the first time Ola and Gio and Romain have been on the field together since the first game, except for a few minutes [against Atlanta].

“I know it sounds like a broken record: It takes a little bit of time.”

Kamara scored a fine goal from a terrific Ibrahimovic pass and afterward called the 4-3-3 the “right formation,” even if it places him somewhere other than where he wants to be.

“I don't love it [on the flank], but right now, it's all about starting to win,” he said. “It's all about the team, and hopefully, maybe with time [I'll be back] playing striker, but right now we have to find a formula where we're winning. And today we did better. I think we actually deserved to win today.”

Lletget, who has started primarily on the left flank with LA, was happy with his move.

Ola Kamara is tackled by Aurelien Collin | USA Today Sports Images

“[The No. 8 role is] where I probably feel most comfortable anyway,” he said. “It's just more natural for me in that position. I know how to support guys, I know how to feed guys.

“I love getting on the ball, and I'm not scared to get it in some difficult positions from the back four and feed the guys up top and then follow the play. That's what I love to do. I love to create, so I do feel more comfortable there. Hopefully, moving forward, I get more opportunities there.”

Dos Santos also scored, with a nifty finish from a Dave Romney header off a corner kick.

“I think Gio did good,” Ibrahimovic said. “If he didn't do good [at times], it was the mistakes of the other players, because we need to look for him. He needs to have [service], he needs to control the game. If we don't find him, it's not his fault, it's our fault. He's in the right position where to get the ball. So we need to find him, not he find the ball.”

Losing on a late and controversial penalty kick stung badly, but it might serve as a genuine step toward what the Galaxy hope to be before long.

“I always say it's the small details that make the difference,” Ibrahimovic said. “Because the small details that you don't see are the important details. We play 4-4-2, 4-4-3, who plays – it doesn't matter. We need to follow the same path and the philosophy. We just need to find each other more and make it easy for each other.

“Today was better, but it was not enough, because I don't like to lose, and it's not good to lose.”