When you put up numbers like the LA Galaxy have all year, the expectation for silverware is very real. This past Saturday, the Galaxy failed to live up to what was all but destiny. I know that may sound entitled, but when you finish the season with a 32 point goal differential don't you have the right to feel entitled?
The Galaxy ended their season with a 2-0 loss to Seattle, despite controlling the midfield and the tempo of the game. Still, possession without quality chance creation is meaningless. If the Galaxy's attack has a flaw, it's that it relies far too heavily on it's intricacies.
Landon Donovan can have a great game, but it's meaningless unless those around him are working in synch with his movements and ideas. On Saturday, LA bossed possession and allowed Seattle only 4 shots on goal. Unfortunately, two of them went in.
Unlucky, but there is also a clear tactical nuance that undercuts LA's gaudy possession and shot numbers. LA's offense was unable to translate possession into good chances. Yes they had 13 shots, but only 3 of them were from dangerous goal scoring positions.
Furthermore, two of those three came from Alan Gordon, whose late game chances on goal are usually brought about through direct, un-Galaxy like soccer. In other words, when the Galaxy were playing their brand of soccer, they weren't creating chances on goal. This can be further illustrated by taking a look at where the chance creation was taking place for LA.
Transitioning the Galaxy's middle third possession into the precise final third combination play that separates LA's possession style from the likes of Columbus, RSL and SKC is the job of one Robbie Keane, and he was sorely missed on Saturday.
As I predicted on twitter, the Zardes/Donovan combination was ill conceived. Zardes does not yet possess the speed of thought to keep up with what Landon Donovan wants to do in combination at forward. In 2012, the Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan pairing combined for 17.86 expected assists. In 2013, the pairing combined for 15.11 expected assists. In 2014, the Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes pairing has only combined for 12.09 expected assists, 70% of which are coming from Keane.
Zardes may finding the back of the net a lot, but his movement and combination play still leave something to be desired. Since Donovan is best as a forward when he links up with others, the Gyasi pairing was not to his favor. Furthermore, his movement to striker created a hole in chance creation from the midfield. Take a look at this model made by Devin Pleuler.
The shade of the lines indicate the frequency of the connections between players. As you can see, there is a lot of linkage going sideways, but not much going forwards down the center. Juninho got the ball to Donovan somewhat often, but the poor positioning of others in the final third made Donovan a poor hub for attacking third linkage; the role usually played by Robbie Keane.
On the bright side, Saturday's was a game that could have gone both ways. Perhaps Zach Scott gets a second yellow for his professional foul to bring down Donovan in transition. Perhaps Gordon buries one of those chances. Perhaps the ref doesn't allow a quick restart, and Pappa isn't in that position for the first goal. Soccer is a lot of what ifs, and the best you can do on any given game day is put yourself into a position to win. The Galaxy absolutely were able to do that on Saturday, despite the absence of their MVP. This team still looks fairly capable of winning their fifth MLS Cup.
The loss is surely a bummer, and it's definitely something that will haunt the legacy of this team. This is a team whose 32 goal differential is the second highest in MLS history, but were just a DC goal away from finishing third in the Supporters Shield race on the final day. In the end, they did it to themselves. A historically good team who let four points slip away on missed penalty kicks. Countless more were lost on sloppy late game marking. Unlike the 2011 Galaxy, they didn't possess that killer instinct to win.That's what lost them the Shield, and the legacy that would have gone with it.