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Bruce Arena's reluctance to go with the improvisational flow

Illuminating Bruce Arena's tactics with forced Jazz analogies. Baggio Husidic was one of the best players on the field for the LA Galaxy on Sunday with Landon Donovan locked down.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Did that really just happen? Did the LA Galaxy just blow a 2 goal lead, and the upper hand in the race for the Supporters' Shield? Did I really stay out till 3:00 A.M following the game, commiserating with my fellow fans and brethren? Stuff like this hurts, even to guys like me who like to go through the Opta data and analyze each game like a robot.

The Seattle Sounders came in with a game plan to shut down Landon Donovan on their right and attack down the center and left. They succeeded in the first part of their mission. Evans sat back and made life difficult for Donoavn. He only created two chances while Evans was on the field, and neither of them were in the danger zone.


LA found a way to score without Donovan's help. Worse yet for the Sounders, their plan of attack was failing thanks to Baggio Husidic, Marcello Sarvas and Juninho who collectively were able to shut down the center and left (LA's right).

There's a popular tendency to undervalue Baggio Huidic's role on this Galaxy team. I can't tell you how many times I've seen twitter call for Stefan Ishizaki to start in his place. Ishizaki is a fine attacking player, but Baggio Husidic gives the midfield some much needed balance and cover.

Even more than his goal and assist, Baggio was a huge part of why the Galaxy were able to stave off Seattle's attack for the first part of the game.  He led the midfield in tackles with 5 (marked in green), in addition to having 8 ball recoveries (marked in yellow). That's just as many as Juninho and only one fewer than Sarvas.


The net effect of having 3 ball winners in the midfield is more complete field coverage when the opposition is in transition. Just take a look at a combined map of tackles and recoveries from those 3 players.


As you can see, the field is pretty well covered.

Obafemi and Dempsey were able to work occasional magic in the penalty area, but LA's defense (specifically AJ DeLaGarza) was coping. With Baggio Husidic putting Neagle on lockdown, the Hydra was kept at bay. With his plans failing Sigi had to improvise, and in his improvisation showed his genius. Sigi replaced Brad Evans with Marco Pappa and moved Neagle to Donovan's side of the field.

Here is when Marco Pappa entered the game.


Foiled by Baggio, Seattle began to focus their attack down Donovan's side. As a result, Baggio didn't have a single defensive action from the time of the Pappa sub until his substitution in the 73rd minute. During that time, Seattle exploded down the Donovan/Rogers side.


So why did Sigi make the sub? Essentially he had nothing to lose. The goal of playing Evans on Donovan's side was to stop LA's attack. Evans succeeded in stopping Landon, but LA found other ways to score. It was a calculated gamble to shift from defending Donovan to attacking him; one that payed off. Here's Donovan and Rogers failing to close down Yedlin as he sets up the first goal.

And here is Rogers' massive screw up on the Neagle goal.

After Seattle's two goals, Bruce Arena did himself no favors moving Gyasi Zardes to the wing. 32% of the offensive giveaways from that point on came directly from Gyasi. The clunky way in which he combined with the rest of Galaxy midfield suggests that the actual number of giveaways he caused was probably higher. Gyasi's inability to keep up with the complex pass and move machine that is the Galaxy midfield pretty much put the entire team out of sync from this point on.

The poor play of Alan Gordon didn't do much to alleviate the issue. Circumstances piled on when Omar Gonzalez was given his second yellow. The referee was quick to his pocket, despite his trepidation in producing a red to Obafemi Martins earlier in the game when he intentionally attempted to kick A.J off the ball. A move which was both violent and clearly seen by the ref who took a few calculating moments before deciding not to ruin the series.

I hate to use refs as a sacrificial lamb when there are plenty of legitimate places where the Galaxy shot themselves in the foot. Robbie Rogers was exposed for his inexperience at left back for the first time all season. Bruce Arena's tactical adjustments exposed something that he himself admits: that he doesn't care much for tactics. He puts the best players on the field.

When the singer started to forget the words, Sigi jumped in on trumpet with some improv Jazz to save the day, while Bruce Arena stuck to the same melody on piano and hoped nobody would notice.