After a four match win-less streak, the LA Galaxy got back on track with a 1-0 victory over the visiting Seattle Sounders. The match, coming on the heals of a couple of road losses, was not a stellar performance for the home team, but was a step in the right direction. Let's start by talking about what went right.
- Getting a Result: As always, the results of the match are what really matter. A victory at home is vital to accruing the points that will be necessary to move into the playoffs at the end of the season, and Bruce Arena has always been very good about not getting caught up in the aesthetics of the game and focusing on doing what it takes to get the result. Alan Gordon's headed goal off of a set piece fit Arena's template perfectly. The fact that LA were able to get back on track and manufacture a result was a very positive thing for this team moving forward.
- Getting the Shutout: Despite missing Leonardo in the center of the defense and giving up ten shots on goal to the potent Seattle attack, the Galaxy were able to keep a clean sheet. Part of the reason for this was that LA defended as a team much more consistently than they have in the past couple of weeks. A second part was that the team defended very intelligently. Despite the fact that Seattle got a lot of good looks, Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza both did a very good job of making those chances as predictable as possible. For example, on what was probably Seattle's best chance of the match, Lamar Neagle took the ball to the touch line on the right and crossed to Andy Rose, whose one-time shot from point-blank range hit Jaime Penedo in the chest. While the play was extremely dangerous, both Penedo and Gonzalez positioned themselves perfectly to make it a very difficult pay for Rose. Gonzalez essentially cut off 90% of the goal by being right on Rose's hip. Penedo positioned himself on the near post so, even though at that range he didn't even have time to react to the ball, Rose had to go either through his legs or over his head. If you go back and watch all of Seattle's shots on goal you'll see many more examples of strong positioning in the final "emergency" defending by the LA defense.
- Strong Goalkeeping: For the last couple of weeks I have been critical of Penedo and Brian Rowe in goal, so I thought it was important to point out that the former was very solid on the night. He wasn't spectacular, but he really didn't have to be. He just positioned himself well, and made every save that he should be expected to make. If he had played this solidly in the last couple of weeks, the results could have been more favorable for LA. I know that's not completely fair, but that''s what a goalkeeper takes on every time he steps on to the field. So, let's give Penedo some dap after this strong performance and hope that we see even more of this type of performance going forward. If we do, it will be a good season for LA.
- Tactical Shift: If just to take a little heat off Penedo, let's remind ourselves that the biggest problem for the LA Galaxy over the past few weeks has been poor play from the midfield. Ever the pragmatist, Bruce Arena, looked at these recent struggles and decided the solution was to put an extra body in the middle of the park. He slotted Gyasi Zardes in as a central attacking midfielder instead of a second striker and paired Rafael Garcia with Juninho as more defensive midfielders. As a result LA were able to, for the most part, control the flow of the match. Kudos to Arena for finding a tactical solution to the loss of key players (both to personnel changes and injuries).
- Controlling Possession: The result of Arena's tactical shift to five midfielders was the return of the possession play that LA fans have come to expect from their team. It wasn't perfect, but the team won the over-all possession battle, with 54% of the ball, and even had significantly more passes in the attacking half and the final third than their opponents. This is no small feat against a strong Seattle squad with Osvaldo Alonso and Rose patrolling the center of the park.
- Creating Chances: In addition to controlling possession, LA created plenty of chances. Despite missing Robbie Keane to injury and putting Zardes in a deeper position, LA had sixteen shots in the match and could have easily scored another goal. Hopefully we will begin to see more of those chances resulting in goals (more on that later).
- Juninho: I think it's important to give a quick shout-out to Juninho after this performance. Over the past several years, "the little Brazilian" (as many announcers refer to him) has been the central cog of LA's midfield play. Through all the ups and downs he has remained solid and predictable. Yesterday he put in another solid shift, and, wearing the captain's armband, drove the team forward to victory.
- Giving up Chances: Despite the victory, LA still look extremely vulnerable. I mention getting the shutout, controlling possession, and great emergency defending earlier in this article, but unless the team stops giving up so many chances, good results will be hard to come by. Even though LA outshot Seatte 16-14, Seattle's shots were from much more dangerous positions on the field. Ten of Seattle's shots came from inside the penalty area (compared to only five from LA), and resulted in a 10-6 advantage in shots on goal. This is a concerning stat.
- Failure to Finish: Speaking of concerning stats, LA continues to be less than spectacular in the finishing department. The Galaxy attack needs to be more clinical. They need to put the ball on frame a higher percentage of the time, and they need to hit their spots. This has been a problem across the board all season. Hopefully the team will have a break-out game, score a few goals, and relax a little bit.
- Invisibility of Zardes: As Zardes began to emerge as a young star with this squad many fans were frustrated with his decision-making. We've all watched Donovan and Keane get in his ear about which runs he was making and what he did with the ball once he got it. He was all explosive strength and quickness that was just a little out of control. This year we seem to be seeing the exact opposite from the young striker. In Sunday's match he actually played the role of the number ten and did a wonderful job protecting the ball and facilitating build-up play. He completed all but one of of his passes, and never gave the ball away in a dangerous position. Unfortunately, he also created very little offensive threat. He had no key passes and no shots. He only took on a player one time (a possible shout for a PK in 38th minute), but was largely invisible. I realize that it's got to be hard for a young player like Zardes to transition to a central attacking midfielder role, but we need to see more from him if we are going to compete for more hardware this year.
- Jose Villarreal Sighting: While it was great to see the young attacker get back on the pitch after his brief injury absence, Villarreal looked lost in his few minutes of play. He had a bad give-away, and failed to hustle back on defense on more than one occasion. It was a disappointing effort from the promising young player. Let's hope that he gets his mojo back with a little more playing time.
Overall, there was a lot of good to take away from this game. Beating Seattle always feels good, and it was especially sweet after the results of the last four weeks. However, this LA team is still struggling to find its identity in the post-Donovan era. Injuries have made that even harder than it might have been otherwise, but as fans, we can hope that this match will get the ball rolling and help the team settle into a more comfortable groove.