The LA Galaxy put in a very solid effort against a New York Redbull team that has yet to lose a match in 2015. As always, the result is what matters, and a draw on the road for LA is the equivalent of holding serve. This is the third positive result in a row for the Galaxy, and yet there was still plenty of reason for concern. Lets look at the match in a little more detail.
- Defense: This was a very solid bend-but-don't-break defensive performance from LA. It involved great shape from the entire team. Alan Gordon and Bradford Jameison IV both continually pressed the back line and even dropped deep to help the LA midfield. Gyasi Zardes and Stefan Ishizaki not only harangued the NY midfield but tracked late runners into the box. The back line was solid as ever, with Omar Gonzalez winning every dangerous ball in the air and A.J. DeLaGarza showing his usual knack for cutting out the final pass or shot. When the Red Bull players did finally get shots off, Jaime Penedo continued his stellar form and made the tough saves. This was one of the best overall defensive performances of the year for LA. Maybe Bradley Wright-Phillips should have scored on that great chance in the 14th minute, but the way things worked out, New York's only goal came on a lucky bounce off of Filipe's face. This was definitely a defensive performance to build on.
- Young attackers: Who in LA is not excited about Jameison's performance in the last two games? While Bruce Arena has, rightly, tried to quell the effusive talk about BJIV, saying, "He's still a young kid, he had some good moments and some that weren't so good but overall a real good performance by a good young player," there's no question that the young striker has given fans a reason for optimism. His goal was well-taken, and his attitude and work ethic were even better. Shots of him sitting on the bench at the end of the match, calmly preparing to head into the locker room, seemed to indicate that he was not too impressed with his first MLS goal. That attitude will serve him well going forward. It is, however, important to remember that young strikers can be very streaky. The great thing for LA, is that they now have three relatively young guys, in Jameison, Zardes, and Jose Villarreal, who can step in and make an impact at this level. It's still too early to anoint any of these guys as the next big thing, but it's great to have so many home-grown options.
- Squad depth: Every week since the beginning of this season it seems like I need to offer praise to the depth of the LA squad. With Robbie Keane, Villarreal, and Todd Dunivant not on the bench, and Leonardo, Tommy Meyer, and Mika Väyrynen all still working their way back to fitness, this squad has shown that they have the quality substitutes to compete with any team in the league. If all players are healthy, it's likely that Jameison would have been with the U20 USMNT instead of scoring his first MLS goal. It's amazing to have this many guys who are on the same page and ready to play at any time.
- Bruce Arena: Of course, the depth and preparedness of this squad is down to the coaching staff. Arena is legendary in US soccer circles, but because of that, he sometimes doesn't get enough credit. People simply take for granted that Bruce Arena coached teams will come into every match prepared to fight and scrap and do what it takes to get a result. This has been a very tough season for LA, but if results continue to go their way, this may prove to be one of Arena's better coaching performances. Let's, however, take this opportunity to spread around the love and not forget assistant coaches Dave Sarachan, Curt Onalfo, Pat Noonan, Kenny Arena, Matt Reis, and Jovan Kirovski. These guys have all done a great job preparing the entire team to be competitive under sub-optimal conditions in 2015.
- Juninho: It seems that, regardless of how well-regarded he is, Juninho never seems to get the credit he deserves. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. Over the past three weeks, it may be that no single player is more responsible for the string of good results than "the little Brazilian." Junhi works as hard as any player on the pitch. His positioning is excellent. He cuts out passing lanes. He chases back on defense. He makes tough tackles. He may, in fact, be the one indispensable player on the squad. While his passing wasn't stellar in this match, his tireless work ethic kept the NYRB midfielders' heads on a swivel. Juninho's combination of sixteen interceptions, recoveries, tackles, clearances, and blocked shots formed the foundation of LA's team defending, and he should get credit for that effort.
- Lack of possession: Despite getting the strong result, it is a little disconcerting to see this LA team do such a poor job controlling possession. The team had less than 40% of possession on the night, and completed only 67% of their passes. In his post-match comments, Arena noted, "Our passing wasn't real good in the first half. Overall, in the game, it wasn't as good as it needs to be but we survived that." It's not just the numbers, but that many of the turnovers were unforced. At this point it's tough to know if this trend towards less possession is due to nerves, lack of discipline, and an inconsistent lineup (this was LA's seventh different starting lineup of the season), or a lack of quality in the existing player pool. If the team can get everyone healthy again, we'll get a chance to make that assessment.
- Lack of attack: While the team, in Arena's words, "...did that things you're supposed to do when you're playing on the road," it has to be noted that, compared to previous years, the attack remains anemic. While I lauded the play of the team's young attackers above, they still need to get significantly better. They need to manufacture more chances from the run of play. They need to learn to make better runs off the ball and move the ball more quickly. Of particular note, if this team is going to continue to cede possession, they need to get better at counter-attacking. Other teams are going to wise-up, and Jameison is not going to be able to run at players the way he did on his goal. It remains to be seen if the return of Robbie Keane and the arrival of Steven Gerrard are the solution to this problem, but if they are not, we will continue to miss the free-flowing attack that we've come to associate with the Galaxy over the past few years.
- Sacha Kljestan: As an LA Galaxy fan, it had to hurt to watch Kljestan in his role as attacking midfielder for the Red Bulls. He had a very solid game, pinging the ball around and producing more key passes from the run of play (4) than the entire LA squad (3). To make matters even worse, Kofi Opare (the player that LA gave up last year in order to move up in the allocation order in a failed attempt to sign Kljestan) started and played a solid 90 minutes for DC United in their 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps. This may have been the most disastrous personnel move in the Arena era in LA, and it sucks to be so blatantly reminded of it.
So there you have it. A result on the road against a very strong Eastern Conference team. It's tough to complain too much, but there is definitely plenty to keep working on.