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Positives & Negatives: LA Galaxy at D.C. United

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The Los Angeles Galaxy suffered a disappointing loss to D.C. United on a last minute goal by Chris Pontius. What can we take away from this match?

Down and out: the LA Galaxy were insulted and injured in their 0-1 loss to DC United
Down and out: the LA Galaxy were insulted and injured in their 0-1 loss to DC United
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Galaxy came into our nation's capital looking a little flustered and a little under-manned. The continued uneven play (which lead to draws in the last two matches) coupled with both starting forwards (Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes) and starting goalkeeper (Jaime Penedo) being away on international duty lead to a last-minute loss to D.C. United in RFK Stadium.

Positives:

  • Maintaining possession: Despite playing a tough team away from home and missing key players, LA still managed to have a decent amount of possession. While D.C. had slightly more possession, the Galaxy were more dangerous with their possession, with 143 passes in the final third compared to just 82 for their opponents.
  • Creating attacking threats: Like last week, the Galaxy continue to create scoring opportunities at a higher rate than their opponents. LA out-shot D.C. 17-6, but only managed a 5-3 advantage in terms of shots on goal. Regardless, with just a bit of luck this result could have turned into a draw (probably the most just result) or a win.
  • Jose Villarreal's maturation: LA's twenty-one year old forward/attacking mid is looking better and better with every match. In Saturday's tilt he was active and looked dangerous cutting into the middle of the field. He has shown himself to be surprisingly strong on the ball, displaying good hold-up play and strength under pressure. As I mentioned last week, he also looks dangerous in the air, playing much bigger than is 5' 8" frame suggests he should. This could prove to be a break-out year for Jose Villarreal.
  • The return of A.J. DeLaGarza: DeLaGarza has been one of the Galaxy's most consistent players over the past six years. Saturday marked his debut for the 2015 season after missing the first three matches with an ankle injury. While not being in top form, DeLaGarza started at right back and demonstrated his intelligence by repeatedly cutting out passing lanes and moving the ball quickly into the attack. In addition he slotted into the middle when Leonardo went down with an injury anddemonstrated his chemistry with Omar Gonzalez in snuffing a number of D.C.'s attacks. As A.J. get's more fit, we should see his contribution in the attacking end improve as well.

Negatives:

  • Failure to convert chances: I mentioned in last week's analysis that LA missed out on the 2014 Supporters Shield by dropping points in matches that they should have won or tied. This makes the second match in a row where that was true, and a lot of that has to do with lack of finishing ability. It's true that, with our starting strikers missing, it might be unrealistic to expect other players to immediately pick up the slack, but that's exactly what needs to happen in order to compete in MLS. Villarreal, Alan Gordon, and Edson Buddle all need to be better about creating and converting chances. Part of that is decision-making, and part of it is being more clinical. This is not an endemic problem at this point in the season (both Villarreal and Gordon have put up a goal this year), but it's a point of concern.
  • Looking suspect in the back: Despite being fairly solid, there were still some moments of confusion in the back. In the first half hour you could make the case that LA were lucky not to be down a goal, with the D.C. attack getting behind the defense on at least a couple of occasions. Bruce Arena has been a master at getting his squads to play solid team defense and limit those types of attacks. Unless he's able to get this team on the same page, there will come a match when LA plays an in-form opponent, and those chances will get converted (last year it was the 4-1 loss to the Columbus Crew).
  • Uneven goalkeeping: To exacerbate the spotty defensive effort, Brian Rowe looked extremely uncomfortable in the goal during the first half. The most egregious error was at the 17th minute mark, when he dropped an easily fielded cross that ricocheted off of Omar Gonzalez. If Nick DeLeon had been a little more attentive, he would have had one of the easiest goals of his career. This sort of mental lapse is the same problem that Rowe has demonstrated in his other starts this season, and if it's not addressed it will come back to bite the team.
  • Jose Villlareal killing the attack: For all that Villarreal has been a pleasant surprise in the young 2015 season, he needs to get better. The young attacker is not quick enough moving the ball off of his feet. He nearly always takes one or two too many touches in the attacking third. I mentioned above how dangerous he looks cutting into the middle, but none of those runs lead to shots on goal. He didn't actually have a single key pass in the entire match. He needs to be more aware of where his teammates are, and get them the ball much more quickly (before the defense has a chance to settle into position). I know it's unfair to compare Jose to Landon Donovan, but the youngster would do well to go back and watch some footage of the LA and USMNT legend from last season in order to try to emulate his distribution. If he can do that and work on being a little more confident with his right foot, he could develop into one of the best attacking players in MLS.
  • Giving up another late goal: This is something that all fans who have watch Galaxy games are aware of. Announcers constantly bring it up as the last ten to fifteen minutes of matches approach. The team has had a tendency to give up late goals and leave points on the table. At this point, it's hard to say what Arena needs to do to address this issue, but something clearly needs to be done.
  • Kofi Opare: For hard core LA Galaxy fans, it had to be painful to see D.C. United bring Kofi Opare off the bench in the 5th minute to replace an injured Steve Birnbaum. LA traded the promising young defender to D.C. for the allocation pick that was supposed to bring Sacha Kljestan to the team. Unfortunately, the move fell through, and the Galaxy failed to get any value whatsoever out of the trade. Opare came on for D.C. and played a very solid match, dominating in the air and showing poise and confidence.
  • Leonardo injury: To add injury to insult, LA lost starting defender Leonardo in the 57th minute when he went down with what appeared to be a quad injury. As noted above, DeLaGarza slotted into the center and played well, but if the injury proves to be serious, LA will miss the big body in the middle. After being a bit of a whipping boy for the past several years, Leonardo seemed to be on a very strong run of form.
Overall, this match was difficult to take anything away from. D.C. did an excellent job disrupting the LA attack in the first have with high pressure and physical play, but the Galaxy may well have converted a number of their attacks had Keane been on the pitch.

Regardless of what could have been, LA find themselves in the same position that they did in early 2014, dropping points and slipping down the table.