Last night the LA Galaxy came out with a group of players who appeared engineered solely for the purpose of destructing Real Salt Lake. While their fields are exactly the same size, LA likes to use the width at the StubHub! Center while RSL likes to play narrow at home. LA did that effectively with A.J. DeLaGarza at fullback and Stefan Ishizaki as a wide midfielder.
DeLaGarza completed passes all up and down the right touchline, with Stefan Ishizaki playing in front of him. The overlapping runs of DeLaGarza not only resulted in the assist on Landon Donovan's first goal but two key passes before the ten minute mark. The team pushed for the opening goal on the right side from the opening whistle, and it showed up on the scoreboard.
Ishizaki on the right side was also a solid distributor with a key pass of his own, but what stands out the most was his defensive work. While Baggio Husidic has been rightly praised as the more defensive minded of the offseason midfield acquisitions, Ishizaki used his quickness to rack up 12 recoveries. He was pressing players and making things miserable for RSL along the midfield line and down his right flank.
"Weeks ago," said Bruce Arena after the match, "when this whole series was established I knew I was going to play Stefan [Ishizaki] in the second game."
Bruce Arena has a reputation for being glib when asked tactical questions, but I don't think this is sarcasm. Ned Grabavoy did not have near the impact of his counterpart in Ishizaki, and appeared to struggle with the speedy combo he and DeLaGarza were on the night.
Part of moving DeLaGarza out involved starting Leonardo, who performed well before going down to injury. While there was a pregame report of Dan Gargan having a knock, the move by Arena appeared to be entirely tactical.
"Leonardo has played very well for us," said Arena. "He makes a good combination with Omar [Gonzalez] and A.J. [DeLaGarza] plays very well on the right side of the field. I thought the timing was right to try that group in the back."
That Bruce Arena would use Leonardo as a tactical substitution will certainly come as a surprise to some Galaxy fans, but in fairness he performed quite well before his injury. The decision was made when he went down to keep DeLaGarza on at fullback while bringing in Tommy Meyer. With Meyer having to come in cold, DeLaGarza played more defensively from that point on. LA got their second half goals more on the break, though RSL's possession didn't prove all that dangerous.
Cassar is getting a lesson tonight. He's smart and he works incredibly hard, and he'll be better for it next year. 2/2— Matthew Doyle (@MLSAnalyst) November 10, 2014
Last night Arena showed that while young coaches can get far with new ideas and innovation, there are moments when an experienced coach can simply take them to school. Gyasi Zardes also got some lessons in facing an elite goalkeeper. The playoffs ask so much of the players involved, and the Galaxy are lucky to have so many veterans involved.