This past offseason, Opta spotlighted the LA Galaxy's average positions in 2012. These average positions show just how the Galaxy positioned themselves, and who were the true starting eleven on the year. Looking back at the average positions shows the Galaxy's key loses and we can look at how LA has tried to fill those holes this year.
Going by average position, this was the average LA Galaxy formation last year:
Saunders; Franklin, Gonzalez, DeLaGarza, Dunivant; Beckham, Juninho, Sarvas, Magee; Donovan, Keane
For all the loses called key in the offseason (Wilhelmsson, Buddle) the Galaxy only had two from the key eleven that had to be replaced. Much of that is due to some shrewd offseason negotiating, with Arena re-signing Magee, getting Juninho on a permanent status, and allowing Donovan the time to clear his head.
Formation only tells a portion of the story. Magee spent most of his time supporting the two forwards while Juninho and Sarvas held the midfield and Beckham worked the right flank. DeLaGarza and Gonzalez were shifted to the right supporting Sean Franklin's overlapping runs. The Galaxy weren't real big sideline huggers.
The two players the Galaxy haven't had from that ideal lineup are Beckham and Donovan. The strike partner position has been filled with a rotation of Jack McBean and Jose Villarreal, with Magee switching between direct support and secondary support.
Beckham's role on the right flank has been more difficult to replace. Juninho is typically the leader in distribution, both in crosses and in successful passes, however he held that role last year as well leading the Galaxy in successful passes. What the Galaxy needed going into this year was for the third place person in successful passes to step up and be more involved.
Enter Sean Franklin.
Franklin had only 23 fewer completed passes than David Beckham in 2012. The solid majority of those passes were to Beckham and Juninho as Franklin combined with them to make a distributing core on the right side of the pitch. Bruce Arena has made a concentrated effort to free up Franklin to take an offense first role, slotting Leonardo into the back line.
Before, Franklin had to step up into the next level as three midfielders played in dead center. Now Franklin can play his same way with A.J. DeLaGarza to overlap him. The 4-4-2 as it were, is much more balanced.
Meanwhile, the LA Galaxy went and got Colin Clark for the same reason they got Christian Wilhelmsson last year; to hug the left flank. It ended up being Todd Dunivant's responsibility last year, and this year isn't much different. Dunivant's completed passes last year were on par with Sarvas and Landon Donovan.
With Donovan returning, I expect the Galaxy to use the triangles of Donovan-Keane-Magee and Sarvas-Juninho-Franklin to spearhead offensive distribution.
The players missing from this discussion are Michael Stephens and Hector Jimenez. For each of them their favorite target last year was Sean Franklin, reflecting the type of situations they were brought into where offense wasn't paramount.
There was hope they could make the break into being a ninety minute midfielder this year, but thus far they haven't shown that ability. Effectively the Galaxy have replaced Beckham with Franklin, Franklin with DeLaGarza, and DeLaGarza with Leonardo. So they've replaced Beckham with Leonardo.
Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising then that the defense has improved, but the offense occasionally suffers from running out of ideas. Donovan and Keane are certainly creative players, and getting them back in the mix will be a big help.
Credit to Bruce Arena for making the shifts to fill in the holes left from the departures from last year's A-squad. However, because Colin Clark has been ineffective, I don't think we're yet seeing the full potential of this team.