The LA Galaxy had one of its worst passing performances of the Bruce Arena era. Just how bad?
#LAGalaxy completed just 67% of its passes vs #RBNY; their worst pass completion rate in a game dating back to April 2013 (64%). #MLS— Ben Jata (@Ben_Jata) April 26, 2015
So what the heck happened? In essence, it was a question of team shape and how LA lined up in order to neutralize New York's high flying attack. Here is the average positioning for both teams. New York is on the left. LA is on the right.
Whether it was reactionary on the part of the players, or by Bruce's design, the Galaxy lined up extremely narrow and this had a profound impact on the game. On the flip side, New York played a high press defense and this similarly affected LA's passing.
Let's look at LA's tackles (green) interceptions (blue) and ball recoveries (yellow) to see where the major lines of confrontation were.
Not only did LA play narrow, but they defended in a low block.As you can see, LA was pushed back on their heels all game and thus the major line of confrontation is quite deep.
In contrast, look how much higher NY's block is.
New York maintained two distinct high lines of confrontation. The first line is mainly made up of defensive actions by Sacha Kljestan, Sal Zizzo, and outside backs Kemar Lawrence and Chris Duvall. The second line was mainly made up of defensive actions by Dax McCarty, Felipe, and the two center backs, Matt Miazga and Damien Perrinelle who push up really high.
This dynamic can also been seen if you plot the players' defensive actions against their total passes.
Again, we see two high lines of pressure. We also see that Lawrence and McCarty were very good and switching between the lines as needed. What is also interesting is that New York didn't particularly make a lot of defensive actions. Instead, they pressured LA into bad passes.
Just look at the locations of LA's incomplete passes.
As you can see, the majority of LA's incomplete passes occurred in the defensive half and were mostly long balls— Long balls due to the ball pressure and lack of immediate passing options.
On the night, LA was unable to break past these lines. The Galaxy only managed 350 passes on the night. 201 of those passes came in the attacking half, however, only 74 of these were in the final third. That shows a major inability to transition possession between the middle and final third.
But New York's press wasn't the only factor in stifling the Galaxy's passing. As I stated before, team shape also played a major role. Stefan Ishizaki, who normally sits very wide, tucked inside. Width is the enemy of high pressure and normally when Ishizaki sits wide, his positioning offers a release valve against ball pressure faced by the outside backs or center mids. By tucking inside in order to absorb New York's attack down the middle, this release valve had to be sacrificed.
If you look at the completed passes by the midfield, you can see how congested things were in the middle.
Another big issue for the Galaxy was the play of Gyasi Zardes on the night. In fact, the following chart could not be more of an indictment of him as a winger.
With Rogers having the most passes, it's incredibly striking how low Gyasi's passing numbers are considering he is the winger directly in front of him. Once again we see Gyasi's major failing— his inability to read the game at speed. Gyasi continues to be reactive rather than proactive, and as a result, both as a forward and as a winger, he doesn't get into positions he needs to be in fast enough. Furthermore, his poor defensive positioning allowed New York's right back to run all over him.
This helped New York in possession and allowed Duvall to put pressure on the ball much higher up the field than normal.
Despite the offensive woes, LA's low block ended up being a complete success. The Galaxy managed to hold New York to a single goal and were able to find a goal in transition. Looking forward to Saturday, it is unlikely we will see similar tactics from the Galaxy outside of perhaps Gyasi Zardes starting as a winger again. In short, I don't think much can be read into this game other than the obvious fact that the Galaxy's current make due offense is not one that is capable of dictating games against the strongest teams in the league.