CARSON, Calif. -- Dominic Kinnear swears that very little has changed since he took charge of the LA Galaxy following Sigi Schmid's departure nearly three weeks ago, but his players, especially in the wake of last weekend's impressive triumph over Seattle Sounders FC, don't necessarily agree.
The Galaxy's defensive organization and ability to command midfield against the Sounders was a new twist for a team that hadn't won since June, providing a foundation that could, with a few more wins and some help from other clubs, pave a path to the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
The 4-4-2 formation -- or 4-5-1, as Kinnear sees it -- was a comfortable starting point for the Galaxy, which kept space tight defensively, conceded just one truly dangerous chance, and finally played as a cohesive unit.
“That was definitely, more than anything, what I took out of the game is our organization,” said Sebastian Lletget, who was stationed as a combination No. 8-No. 10 in the 3-0 romp. “We were able to keep the ball. And make the other team move when we have it. We definitely pulled them out of position. We made them do things that teams don't want to do defensively.
“I think it just seemed like we're just more together. And we defended well. This is what I knew this team could be, we just have to show it more.”
The Galaxy (11-11-8) have four more chances to do so, starting with Saturday night's must-win showdown at StubHub Center with Vancouver Whitecaps FC (10 pm ET | TSN - Full TV & streaming info), as they seek to vault from seventh in the Western Conference into a playoff berth. They'll again be without injured midfielders Giovani dos Santos, Chris Pontius and Bradford Jamieson IV.
LA, it follows, will continue on in this system, but pinpointing the tactical shifts isn't so simple. What's changed?
“Nothing, really,” said Kinnear, who as head coach won a Supporters' Shield with the San Jose Earthquakes and two MLS Cup titles with the Houston Dynamo. “Obviously, from a couple of weeks ago, we changed from a three to a four [at the back], to try to keep it a little more basic. Really, that's about it. Nothing has changed a whole lot.
“I think the demeanor has changed. I think when you win a game and you play well, people have a sense of accomplishment with that.”
There's also a confidence that had been missing all season, even during the nine-game unbeaten streak that had the Galaxy challenging for the top spot in the West, a position they'd have reached had they not surrendered leads in a loss and two draws in early July.
“In the week prior to the [Seattle] game, we trained really well, and we see a difference in everyone,” said captain Ashley Cole. “We knew last Sunday we were going to come out with a new mentality, a different way of playing. Possession, we kept the ball a lot. So yeah, confidence is high now. ... I think on Saturday again we'll see the Galaxy that we should be.”
So vital for LA was the partnership between Dave Romney and Daniel Steres in central defense and the makeup in midfield, with Jonathan dos Santos behind Lletget and Ola Kamara playing something of an in-betweener next to and in front of Lletget.
Romney and Steres were in there in place of Michael Ciani, who has been on bench in both of Kinnear's games, and Jorgen Skjelvik, who was out with the flu. Skjelvik is back, but Romney and Steres might have won starting jobs, at least for the time being.
“I hope so,” Cole said. “More than likely, I think it's going to be the same team [as against the Sounders]. Because we played so well. I don't think you could see any changes going in there, to be honest. But I'm not the manager.”
Kinnear, asked about retaining the partnership, said that “everybody who played well in that game did very well for themselves to remain considered to start on Saturday.”
Does that mean holding midfielder Perry Kitchen, pushed aside with Lletget and dos Santos filling the two central-midfield roles behind Kamara, is again on the subs list? Depends. Vancouver offer different challenges than Seattle did.
“I think when when we have the ball,” Kinnear said, “not so much [is different than against the Sounders]. Defensively, yeah. We have to put pressure on them and we have to make sure we stick with second runners and fight for second balls, because we know the threat they possess when they do play direct.
“When they get wide, they're not afraid to put the ball into the box for Kei Kamara, who's really good in the air, and they run off him very well. So it's important for us, we need to keep our pressure, especially in our half of the field. We need to close the space down.”
The system makes that possible.
“It's the organization,” Cole said. "I thought we moved the ball well. We didn't really play it back to the goalie too much, which we've been doing way too much in the past games, causing us to kick a long ball, we don't win the second ball, and its on and and on. I think the way we played was really good, and hopefully on Saturday we can get the same kind of concentration from the whole team, the fight and desire, because the players want to be in the playoffs.”
And this is a different Galaxy pushing toward that goal.
“We follow Dom now,” Zlatan Ibrahimovic said. “He took over two weeks ago, and his philosophy is in the game now, and I always say you follow the results and let the results speak for themselves.”