The LA Galaxy trotted out a new look back line against the Chicago Fire, and it's safe the say it was successful. The Galaxy went almost half the season last year without a clean sheet, so starting the year off with a clean sheet was fairly significant. First we'll look at the fullbacks, and later we'll look at the central defenders.
Here's the lineup from the LA Galaxy's 2012 MLS Cup victory: Saunders; Franklin, Gonzalez, Meyer, Dunivant; Juninho, Beckham, Wilhelmsson, Magee; Keane, Donovan. Since then, Saunders was allowed to sign with Real Salt Lake. Tommy Meyer was injured and A.J. DeLaGarza returned from injury. Christian Wilhelmsson and David Beckham were allowed to take other opportunities. Landon Donovan went on walkabout.
As a result, Bruce Arena came out with a new look lineup for the 2013 MLS opener. Magee stepped up and paired with Robbie Keane. That left three holes in the midfield which were filled by Marcelo Sarvas, new addition Colin Clark, and Sean Franklin stepping up from the backline.
A.J. DeLaGarza took on a new role as a fullback behind Franklin and Leonardo returned from injury to start next to Omar Gonzalez. Todd Dunivant started in his usual fullback role. Both of them were able to have an impact overlapping on the wing.
When saying a team has width, one of the components is the fullback's ability to overlap on the wings stretching a defense. Looking at passes by the fullbacks in the final third, we see a number of key passes. For instance, there's A.J. DeLaGarza on Mike Magee's second goal.
A.J. DeLaGarza and Robbie Keane had a two on one break after Mike Magee sent up a through ball that he won back for the Galaxy. DeLaGarza's pass was behind Keane, which slowed the break down but Keane was able to recover, find an opening and slot a pass to Magee who stayed with the play and scored. Magee won the possession and finished it for the Galaxy, but DeLaGarza overlapping is what broke the play open.
Because Keane had to do so much work DeLaGarza didn't get the second assist, but if he had that would have been two assists from fullbacks on the Galaxy's first two goals of the season.
Todd Dunivant was also a maybe for an assist, since he and Steven Kinney got to their 50/50 ball at the same time. Ultimately Dunivant was given the assist which he earned partnering with Keane at the top of the box. Fullbacks and forwards giving opposing defenders tough decisions and the inability to cover everyone is always a good thing.
It's worth noting that the wide play for the Galaxy wide midfielders wasn't nearly as successful. It wasn't until stoppage time that either Clark or Franklin had a successful cross. So while DeLaGarza out wide can be called a success, Franklin in the midfield might need some rethinking.