Right now, there's plenty of doom and gloom among LA Galaxy fans ahead of their team's playoff match. It's a weird feeling for many, and while this may be the first season in the last six where the Galaxy are playoff underdogs, there are pretty obvious reasons as to why the Galaxy will be assuming the role of David tonight instead of Goliath.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about what makes the Galaxy's midfield tick, and how Juninho's discipline is often the deciding factor between a win and a loss.
Go skim that real quick.
Of course, Juninho isn't the only player in the LA Galaxy midfield, and even if his positional discipline is perfect on any given night, that's only part of the equation. The players around him still have responsibilities and if they aren't doing their jobs, Juninho's effort is for not. However, when the players around him are failing, that's usually when he starts chasing the game. I made that point in the link above. Click it.
So if the Galaxy want to remain effective by allowing Juninho to be at his best, it means that his center midfield partner needs to do his job. That center midfield partner happens to be Steven Gerrard, and his job is to create chances around the box. If he does this, the Galaxy's arsenal of attackers can do what they do best.
Unfortunately, Gerrard has been unable to find the final pass in recent weeks. What's concerning is that his issues stem more from not being in the right position than from making the wrong pass. He's just not there to make the pass in the first place.
That's Steven Gerrard's heat map from Sunday's match against Sporting Kansas City, showing the Galaxy as attacking the left side of the field.
As you can see, that isn't really what you want from a guy who is supposed to be your de facto No. 10. Neither is the stat line of no key passes, no chances created, and just one pass completed into the final third.
Tonight's match will feature two of the most dangerous forwards in Major League Soccer: Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. With Dempsey apparently back in form and the Sounders on an 8-match unbeaten run and a home playoff game against their biggest rivals, Juninho's positional discipline is going to be paramount to the Galaxy's success. He won't be able to pick up any slack in Gerrard's attacking play.
With the pressure of a raucous crowd and an away playoff game, it wouldn't be too surprising to see Gerrard pushed even farther back than he was against Sporting. Not only will the Galaxy be the underdogs in the minds of many, but their shape will most likely reflect it as well.
One possible solution could be to throw Alan Gordon up top from the beginning and use him as a release valve for all the pressure that the Galaxy will be absorbing on defense. If Route 1 ball is good enough for Jurgen Klinsmann, it's good enough for Bruce Arena, right?
Let's hope not.
Another, much more aesthetically pleasing solution would be to switch Gyasi Zardes and Giovani dos Santos. Moving Zardes up top means having a physical presence at the center forward position while not giving up as much speed and explosiveness as you would by starting Alan Gordon. Moving dos Santos back to the midfield allows for a more dynamic presence stretching the width of the field and connecting passes on counters.
Dos Santos in midfield also adds the threat of a shuttler who can work the middle in the attacking third and make up for central chance creation that Juninho and Gerrard simply aren't providing, while allowing Gyasi to play the position he's best suited for.
No matter what Bruce Arena decides to do tonight, he needs to recognize that the Galaxy are out of balance. He needs to make a change quickly, because they're almost out of time as well.