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Talking Tactics: How The Galaxy Attack Works, And When Does It Fail

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Talking tactics is not my strong suit, but I want to get better at it. I read a bunch of zonal marking articles on how tactics have changed in the last decade, and I'm going to try and apply them to the Galaxy 4-4-2. Ultimately, I hope to show how all the pieces fit together, and why one piece is no longer as valuable as it once was.

Before we can argue Galaxy tactics, we have to define just what kind of players the Galaxy starters are starting with the center backs. Honestly this is something I should have done day one on this blog, but hey better late than never. Which is all to say, if you do know something about tactics, I'm not going to break any ground here.

Looking at this Zonal Marking article, we can identify three types of center backs. Tough tackling defensive midfielders, classic #10 creators, and the deep lying playmaker. Since Bruce Arena typically deploys a 4-4-2, we can assume that his CM's are either tough tacklers or creators. It's called the destroyer-creator model, and with David Beckham and Juninho typically deployed in the middle, let's see what type they are.

So last match, the Galaxy started Beckham and Juninho in the middle. The word tough tackler in the description makes me think of yellow card happy Beckham rather than Juninho, but looking at the stats I think Juninho is the destroyer. Last match he had four tackles won in the center of the pitch, and one up on the wing. Beckham had just one, on the wing. His one tackle in the center, he lost.

Beckham did have a fair number of interceptions, but all on the wing in the offensive half. Juninho's two were in the center and defensive. Juninho also had three clearances in the box. Between them are fifteen recoveries and they're evenly split, and this is what I notice from Beckham and mistakenly made me think of him as destroyer. He will run down a play if it's necessary, but Juninho is clearly the CM in charge of stopping the attack in the middle.

However, Beckham isn't the #10 type; that's Landon Donovan's role. Yet Donovan rarely starts in the middle, he's on the wing or up top. Despite starting up top last match, Donovan had 45 successful passes, the majority of them in the center of the pitch. Despite being listed at forward, this tells me he was playing in a fourth band underneath Keane more than on the same level.

The other thing worth noting about the midfield is that Beckham's crosses tend to come from the right. Three of his four crosses from the run of play came from the right wing and one from the left. None came from the middle which puts pressure on Juninho and the center backs to watch out for the counter, since Becks doesn't have the pace to go out wide then drop back.

This lack of pace is also why one simply can't start Becks on the wing. In the modern 4-4-2 the full back is expected to be an attacker given the amount of space they have. Think of Sean Franklin running up the wing, or AJ DeLaGarza in an ideal situation. Todd Dunivant mixes it up as well. Between Dunivant and Franklin last match you have 97 passes last match, at least half of those coming in the offensive half.

Stopping those quick fullbacks is the job of the wingers. Last match that would be Mike Magee and Hector Jimenez. 15 recoveries between these two, mostly in the defensive half.

The big flaw I can see in this system is the counter up the middle when Beckham goes out on the wing. The other would be players on the wing incapable of keeping up with the attack on the wings. The revolving door the Galaxy had at center back to begin the season certainly didn't help their ability to stop the counter, and it's likely players on the wing played further in to try and compensate.

When Mike Magee said after the match Saturday that they had started to play for each other, that sounds like they're starting to trust each other. Overcompensation is a symptom of lack of trust and lack of trust never breeds happiness.

I've yet to talk about the forwards, so let's wrap this up. Zonal Marking argues that the 2000s saw the death of the poacher. I would argue without question that Edson Buddle is a poacher, but is Robbie Keane? Essentially he argues it's not enough to be a goalscorer anymore, one has to contribute to the overall game. Keane had 42 successful passes last match, so I'll stave off calling him a poacher. He's not Wayne Rooney, but he's involved all over the offensive zone.

Which brings me to two conclusions. One, Edson Buddle as poacher and David Beckham as quarterback worked in 2010 largely because the Galaxy were able to dominate possession and stop counters with Omar Gonzalez' quickness and awareness. Beckham was able to pile up the assists again last year, as the Galaxy defense was solid enough to continually try an inefficient aerial attack and survive a 1-0 scoreline.

This year is different. To win more than they loose the Galaxy are going to need to score multiple goals. That involves Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and Mike Magee creating on the ground more than it does hopeful long balls. Beckham's role is free kicks and corners, which he's still masterful at.

Edson Buddle is a great target on those free kicks, but so was Omar Gonzalez. Buddle's skill is replaceable, which is why I hope he either accepts a role as a last third of the match option or is traded away. The Galaxy attack is more efficient without him, and the goal for the offense at this point has to be efficiency.