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Positives & Negatives: LA Galaxy at Vancouver Whitecaps

There was plenty to critique as the Los Angeles Galaxy were thoroughly outplayed by the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday evening in BC Place.

Russel Teibert was a constant thorn in the side of the LA Galaxy midfield during Saturday's match
Russel Teibert was a constant thorn in the side of the LA Galaxy midfield during Saturday's match
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Galaxy got completely dominated in a 2-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday evening in BC Place. When asked if there was anything good to take away from the match, Bruce Arena said, "Can’t take anything good. Personally every player can look at their performance and make sure it doesn’t happen again."

With that in mind, I'm going to try to pull at least a few positives from this match to get us started.

Positives:

  • Defensive depth: It seems a little odd to say this after a 2-0 defeat, but the LA defense wasn't really all that bad, and Todd Dunivant and Tommy Meyer both did a decent job stepping in for usual starters Robbie Rogers and Leonardo (respectively). There was a lot of pre-match concern that Dunivant, in particular, would get torched by Vancouver's speed, but he used solid positioning and anticipation to hold them in check for most of the evening. Meyer, while getting beaten one-on-one for the opening goal, was actually fairly solid on the night.  The goal he did give up was a very difficult play because Stephan Ishizaki left his runner in the midfield to set-up the one-on-one. In a tough match with a poor result, we can at least take some solace in the fact that the LA defense looked like (with a little more help from the midfield) they could hold up despite missing two key players.
  • A.J. DeLaGarza is back: In a related point, it was great to see A.J. DeLaGarza looking more like his old self on the pitch. He had, perhaps, the best performance of any Galaxy player on the night. He made a number of goal-saving tackles and covered in the middle very intelligently. He used his speed wide to (for the most part) prevent Vancouver attackers from getting behind him. One particular play that stood out was late in the match after LA had starting attacking with more emphasis. Erik Hurtado came bursting through the middle for a one-on-one with DeLaGarza, and A.J. shepherded the attacker to the right side of the goal, pushing him a little wide and cutting down the angle to allow goalkeeper Jaime Penedo to make the save on what, in the end, became a pretty tame shot. That was textbook defending, and what we've come to expect from A.J.
  • Edson Buddle shoots: Maybe we're scraping the bottom of the barrel here, but Edson Buddle looked better in his substitute appearance in this match than he has all season long. He demonstrated why Bruce Arena chose to sign him this off-season. He held up the ball fairly well, and had two (count 'em) shots on headers from a dangerous position late in the match. Perhaps that bodes well for the future.
Negatives:
  • Low energy: LA got played off the pitch from the opening whistle. Vancouver simply looked like they were ready to play and LA were not. This was particularly evident in the midfield, where Ishizaki, Baggio Husidic, Mika Väyrynen, and (after coming on for an injured Väyrynen) Rogers all looked to be playing at half speed. Their movement off the ball was poor. Vancouver players (particularly Russell Teibert) repeatedly jumped LA passes because they were very predictable and LA players were not coming to the ball. Perhaps worst of all, there was little defensive pressure from the LA midfield when they did turn over the ball, and they gave up on the play way too soon. The worst example of that was Ishizaki on the first goal, where he simply stopped running with Kekuta Manneh before he was even in the LA defensive third. If Ishizaki had continued to track back and pressure Manneh from behind, it's likely that he could have disrupted the shot leading to the goal. That was simply an unacceptable effort.
  • Poor off-the-ball movement: I mentioned this above, but it is such a problem that it deserves its own bullet point. The LA midfield has become far too static. In the opening match against Chicago, we saw a dynamic midfield with lots of movement off the ball spawning lots of quick movement of the ball. That positive trait has degraded in subsequent matches, and this match was nadir. LA midfielders seem to find a spot and stand there, waiting for the ball to come to them. They don't seem to now where their teammates are, and they act as if the opposing midfield will just let them hold the ball as long as they want. Opposing teams have come to realize that if they just apply consistent pressure, the LA midfield will fold, giving up the ball, and failing to apply counter-pressure once that happens. This is a HUGE problem for LA, and needs to be dealt with ASAP.
  • Poor team defense: Once again, I'm going to pick on the midfield here. As I mentioned in a couple places above, the lack of energy and commitment from the midfield is leaving the back line exposed. When LA have been at their best over the past four years, they play cohesive team defense. The midfielders work very hard to track back and prevent mismatches. Both goals that LA gave up on Saturday saw just the opposite. I already covered the first goal, but the second was perhaps even worse. Yes, Omar Gonzalez did a poor job, allowing Octavio Rivero to spin him and take the ball to the touchline.  However, both Ishizaki and Juninho stood by and watched as Rivero made a looping run right in front of them to tap the ball into the goal off of a parried cross. If either player puts a body on Rivero, or at least makes an attempt to get goal-side of him, that becomes a significantly more difficult goal to score.
  • Forwards starved for service: While I'm at it, why not continue to have a go at the midfield? Not only did they defend poorly and fail to match Vancouver's energy, they (unsurprisingly given the first two critiques) failed to create any service for the forwards. Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes (not Zardez), and Alan Gordon combined for zero shots through the entire match. Perhaps this is partially their own fault, but they were simply unable to get the ball in dangerous positions. Ishizaki had the two crosses leading to Buddle's two shots (the only two shots by a Galaxy forward on the night), but at that point it was too little, too late. Did I mention that the LA midfield needs to get better?
  • Suspect goalkeeping: Another theme that seems to be emerging for LA this year is mediocre goalkeeping. Penedo was not bad on the night, but once again, just slightly better goalkeeping could have prevented both goals. Manneh's shot on the first goal was eminently savable, and Penedo spilled the cross on the second goal right to the feet of Rivero. It would really be harsh to hold Penedo responsible for either goal, but I'm sure he'd be the first to tell you that he should be doing a little better with the shots he's facing.
  • Injuries: Just like last week, not only was this a poor result for the Galaxy, but mounting injuries are making the next few matches look more and more difficult. In addition to Leonardo and Jose Villarreal (who both went down last week with injuries) Väyrynen went out in the 40th minute, and does not look like he'll be available next week. To make matters even worse, Keane was motioning for a substitute in the final few minutes of the match, despite that fact that all three subs had already been used. Keane looked to have a soft-tissue injury in his upper leg. Let's hope that it was something minor and he will be available for the Seattle match next week.
  • This was easily the worst performance by the Galaxy in some time. At this point its tough to tell if this is a one-off, or if the quality of the team is slipping due to a combination of players lost during the off-season, the increased age of key guys like Keane and Dunivant, and the plethora of injuries the team is facing. Regardless of the causes of this dip in form, Bruce Arena has his work cut out for him getting this team back into a competitive groove.