Is it just me, or are the walls closing it? No, it's not just me. A week ago, Matt Doyle penned one heck of a piece about the crumbling of our Galactic Empire. The once infallible Bruce Arena has seemingly taken this team from rock bottom, to top of the league, right down to rock bottom again, as he's tried and seemingly failed to assimilate some of the biggest talents in the league into a single cohesive team. Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Giovani dos Santos, Sebastian Lletget, Gyasi Zardes... it really is an embarrassment of riches for the LA Galaxy, and yet, the team just hasn't looked the same since Dos Santos' arrival and their transition to a team without a target forward.
LAGC: How healthy is Clint Dempsey?
SaH: He's finally healthy. It took some time for Clint to recover from the Gold Cup with Jurgen. His performances with the USMNT and the Sounders suffered for several months, but against Real Salt Lake he shouted to the world "Don't tread." Those two goals and assist earned him a second straight year with a double-double, the only player in MLS that did that in 2014/15.
The Sounders were just 3-10-1 without Dempsey and were only 1-8-0 without Martins this year. Both are healthy. Both are ready. Clint even got to leave the match early during Sunday's blowout.
LAGC: Seattle has never been in a better position to down LA in the playoffs. Does this add extra pressure, and if so, how do you see the team handling that pressure?
SaH: There is no added pressure to facing LA. This is the bugbear. This is the Empire. For people within the organization the Galaxy are a bigger deal than the Timbers. The Galaxy represent everything that Seattle wants to be, in regards to trophies and winning.
That pressure doesn't increase. It sits on their hearts constantly, reminding them that until they unseat the Galaxy they are at best second best. I would go so far as to suggest that if the Sounders won an MLS Cup that didn't involving defeating LA it wouldn't feel like a complete MLS Cup for a certain head coach.
LAGC: Is this Seattle's year?
SaH: If not now, when?
LAGC: In keeping with Star Wars, who shoots first?
SaH: Clint Dempsey is definitely the most Han Solo-ish of all the Sounders. He's a scoundrel, but you love him anyway, because he's on your side. Clint would most definitely shoot first. He'd also shoot again, maybe a little love tap to the important parts. Someone would talk stiffly to him after he shoots and then he'd grab their bill at the Mos Eisley Cantina ripping it to shreds. Always nearby is ally Obafemi Martins, all suave and ready to boss any situation. Oba doesn't shoot first, but he will destroy the carcass, pick up the pieces, flip through the halls celebrating success. The two are inseparable. Together they are the mighty Clinfemi and a dual MVP candidate when healthy. On their own they are a scoundrel and mercenary we've chosen to love.
Projected Lineup: Frei; Gonzalez, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Ivanschitz, Pineda, Friberg, Pappa; Dempsey, Martins
SaH: Since adding Gerrard and Dos Santos the Galaxy are 6-2-5 +2, but they got worse as those players were more integrated into the team going just 1-3-2 -6 in the last six matches. Should either one be benched for a must win game?
LAGC: No. The problem isn't so much the players as it is that they are being played the wrong way. Sorry to be "that guy" and link to my own work, but I recently wrote a piece that documents the Galaxy's current midfield woes and what exactly is going on. In short, the Galaxy are repeating the mistakes of 2013 when their offense was built around the forward tandem of Keane and Donovan. Teams very quickly learned that they could sit on those two, and the Galaxy wingers, at the time, Zardes and Rogers, weren't dangerous enough to get things done offensively. While Lletget and current day Zardes are much better wingers, both of them are more goal oriented than assist guys. Without a midfielder who can deliver those through balls that can unlock a defense, the Keane/Gio combo is easily marked out of the game and provides little hold-up play to bring players forward.
This has been compounded by Gerrard not getting forward enough, but, after the SKC game, it appears like that has been an emphasis in practice. This may alleviate the Galaxy's woes a little, but the general lack of creativity in the midfield still remains the biggest problem. Shots simply aren't being created from the midfield.
SaH: LA is still the best MLS counter-attacking team. If you had to limit their chances from counters what would you do?
LAGC: I don't think LA is the best counter attacking team. I think that title goes to Dallas or possibly Vancouver, with you guys close behind. Keane and Gio can be quite scary on the counter, but there isn't really a pot-stirrer behind those two to spring them, and if Gio drops back to do it, then it's just Keane on the run. Zardes' anticipation when it comes to runs on long balls is pretty pitiful and Lletget doesn't have the speed. Basically, you just need to have one centerback tightly mark the forward without the ball and have Alonso and the other centerback work to close down the forward with the ball at an angle that shepherds him to the wings and away from trouble. While this is all happening, someone for Seattle also needs to track Gerrard because he's probably going to make that trailing run to the top of the box as soon as the play gets pushed wide.
Of course, this is easier said than done, and the only sure fire defense to this is to not give away the ball in advanced positions, but it's certainly much more manageable than having to account for someone like a Castillo or Manneh with a Diaz or Morales behind them.
SaH: What lesson have the Galaxy learned about road performance in 2015 that gives fans hope of continuing their dominance of Seattle in the Playoffs?
LAGC: We're the LA Galaxy. If we win, it's because we're the greatest of all time. If we lose, it's the ref's fault. For better or for worse, this is the culture that Bruce Arena has built. We don't learn.
SaH: Is Bruce Arena the Death Star?
LAGC: The Death Star is the perfect analogy for Bruce Arena and I'm jealous I didn't think of it. The Bruce Arena is the pinnacle of coaching in this country and there is a trail of blown up planets in his wake. The Bruce Arena's role goes well beyond its technical function. He is the water mark of coaching in the country, and, for that reason, he is more than himself. He is an embodiment— a living legend.
But you can't really be those things without a little bit of institutional hubris setting in. Bruce Arena surrounds himself with like-minded staff. Bruce rarely looks to innovate past his own status quo of excellence. Bruce Arena is a very smart man, and his ideas, more often than not, are the right ones. When they aren't, however, his stubbornness gets the best of him and he is slow to right the ship. This is the Bruce Arena's thermal exhaust port and Bruce's steadfastness in the current failing lineup, might as well be a giant neon sign beside it reading "Use the force here"
Projected Lineup: Keane, Dos Santos, Lletget, Juninho Gerrard, Zardes, Rogers, Omar, Leo, AJ, Ricketts.