The Los Angeles Galaxy gritted out another tough home win against Sporting Kansas City with a last minute goal from substitute Omar Gonzalez. It was an excellent result for a team that was even more under-manned than they have been in previous weeks, but that doesn't mean that everything is rosy for the defending champions. Let's take a look at the positive and negative take-aways from this match.
- Three points: Despite the fact that this was an ugly match, LA was able to salvage the win and take all three points. Because of the way things played out (with the last-second goal) it's easy to let the thrill of victory distort perspective. Winning at home is only holding serve. However, one of the marks of a good team is to do what it takes to win tough matches like this. The way that the team refocused in the second half and continued to push for the win showed excellent character.
- Squad depth: The story of this entire season for the Galaxy has been one of missing players. In seven matches, the team has had six different starting lineups. At this point, it's actually hard to tell what the best eleven on the team would look like. Starters from earlier in the season, including Jose Villareal and Mika Väyrynen were on the bench after being out with injuries, Robbie Keane was still out with a strained quad, and Gonzalez and Gyasi Zardes were both on the bench recovering from going ninety minutes with the US Men's National Team on Wednesday. Despite this, the team competed well against a tough SKC squad. Getting results while at less than full strength is one of the hallmarks of Bruce Arena coached teams, and this match was a great example (more on that below).
- Bradford Jameison IV: A shining example of the depth on this LA Galaxy squad is Jameison. This 18-year-old academy player has been on the radar for some time and made spot appearances for the senior squad. He started as a second forward with Alan Gordon (who put in the hard work that we've come to expect from him), and used his speed and quickness to be a threat throughout the match. While he showed his age on a couple of occasions, he stretched the SKC defense and drew fouls in dangerous positions. It's exciting to see a player this young play so well.
- Late substitutes: Yet another example of Arena's faith in the depth of his squad was his willingness to keep his fatigued and/or recovering players on the bench until late in the match. After a good start to the match, LA gave up a goal in the 22nd minute and seemed to lose their composure and let the game open up. The team came out more focused and disciplined in the second half, but play was disjointed and ugly. In the 66th and 69th minutes, Arena brought in Väyrynen and Zardes (respectively), and they immediately improved the ability of the LA midfield to possess the ball and control the run of play. Gonzalez was brought in to replace an injured Tommy Meyer (more on that later), and ended up scoring the winning goal. It's games like these that make Arena look a little bit like a mad genius.
- Return of injured players: It was definitely a positive to see Väyrynen back on the pitch, seemingly recovered form his early-season injury. It was also great to see Villareal on the bench, even though he didn't make it into the match. Having those options available will be very important moving forward.
- Strong goalkeeping: Even though Jaime Penedo is unlikely to get the public adulation that last week's ten save performance engendered, the Panamanian 'keeper once again put in a very solid performance. While he was only credited with one save in the match, it was, arguably, more difficult than any of the saves he made last week. Despite being scored on, he did well to come off his line and was almost able to prevent SKC's lone goal. If Penedo continues to play at this level, LA should continue to get results.
- First-half intensity: While the Galaxy players came out in the beginning of the game with a high level of intensity, there was a definite drop-off after they gave up the goal in the 22nd minute. The players seemed to get down on themselves and looked much more like the team that was soundly beaten by the Vancouver Whitecaps a couple of weeks ago than the team that fought out a victory against the Seattle Sounders. This may be the sign of a team that is still struggling to find its identity. When you look at the players who were on the field during that 20-25 minute stretch, they were missing five key players from last year's championship squad, and the lack of leadership really showed. Let's hope that the young guys are learning from these experiences and can provide that leadership in their own right as the season progresses.
- Defensive lapses: Once again, LA gave up a goal on a mental lapse by a single defender. Dan Gargan, who has been excellent throughout the season, was the culprit this time. He somehow managed to get five yards behind the rest of the defensive line, holding goalscorer Krisztian Németh on-side when the ball dropped to him behind A.J. DeLaGarza. Had Gargan pushed up with Meyer a few seconds earlier, the goal, likely, would not have been scored. All players have these types of mental errors, but the team needs to continue to strive to eliminate simple mistakes like these.
- Unconvincing attack: After lauding the depth of the LA squad above, I think it's important to temper that optimism with the reality the Galaxy attack is simply not as threatening as we are used to seeing. Given the instability in the line-up, it's not surprising that these guys are not yet all on the same page. LA were out-shot 10-9 by their opponents, and while holding an edge in passes in the attacking half and the attacking third, were much less effective at completing those passes than SKC. These stats simply illustrate how disjointed the team looks in the attacking third. However, while the lack of consistent attacking threats can be seen as a negative, perhaps it can also be seen as an area where improvement is possible, and therefore something to be optimistic about going forward.
- One more injury: While it's nice to see some injured players back in the squad, we are still faced with the prospect of Keane and Leonardo out of commission. Add to that one more injury. Meyer took a knock in the 78th minute and was subbed off for Gonzalez. While we do not yet know how serious the injury was, it's frustrating that it occurred on an unnecessary late tackle well after the ball was gone. LA really can't afford to continue suffering injuries at a rate of 1-2 per week. Let's hope that Meyer is OK and will be ready to play against the New York Red Bull next week.
- Goodbye tiki-tako: One of the hardest thing for long-term LA Galaxy fans to deal with this season is the death of tiki-tako. After three seasons of some of the prettiest attacking soccer MLS has ever seen, it looks like the team no longer has the personnel and the chemistry to pull off the free-flowing combination play that lead to both the domination of possession stats and the score sheet. That's not to say that the team won't get better at holding the ball and creating chances, but it's really hard to see how this group of players could recreate the magic that we saw the last few years.
So a little less than one quarter of the way into the 2015 MLS season, the Galaxy find themselves in third place in the Western Conference, and starting to find their form. Next week will be a big test for the team, playing in New York against the undefeated Red Bull. Saturday's gritty performance is a great stepping stone to that match.