Soccer can be a very cruel game. For 75 minutes on Saturday evening, the LA Galaxy played a very solid match, perhaps as well as they've played in the last month. However, things fell apart in the last fifteen minutes, and they ended up walking out of Toyota Stadium with nothing to show for their efforts. Let's take a look at the specifics of what went right, and what went wrong.
- Five-man midfield: While Bruce Arena took the blame for this loss (see below), he needs to be given some credit for setting up the team to neutralize a very good Dallas attack. He had the players come out in a 4-1-4-1 lineup, with Juninho sitting right in front of the back four and shadowing Dallas play-maker Mauro Diaz. This proved to be an extremely effective tactic, and had the LA midfield maintained their discipline over the last fifteen minutes of the match, would be the story of the day.
- Team defending: As with most of the positive take-aways from this match, we need to apply the caveat of "for the first 75 minutes" to this. For that period, LA actually controlled the match. The four midfielders in front of Juninho got back in a block, with the little Brazilian (TM) roaming around and wreaking havoc on the Dallas attackers. Dallas was able to generate a couple attacks with some lucky bounces and minor breakdowns on the wing, but overall the team looked solid.
- Solid Goalkeeping: This is a great theme to be coming back to after every game. Jaime Penedo, once again, was solid between the pipes. He's making some tough saves (including a couple of diving saves to keep the clean sheet) and doing a great job holding on to the ball on shots through traffic. At one point, there was a tough shot that came through a crowd with a lot of movement. Had the Panamanian international been unable to hold the ball, there were three FC Dallas attackers closing in. Penedo maintained his focus, and sucked up the ball like a Hoover. In spite of the outcome on this day, that type of play is going to help LA earn a lot of points this year.
- Gyasi Zardes scores: In the comments of my last write-up someone said that the Zardes really needs to step it up. The young striker did just that in this match. He scored a goal on a beautiful header that he was able to redirect to the far post. In addition to scoring the goal, Zardes did a very good job with his hold-up play, riding the Dallas pressure to maintain possession in tough situations and facilitate the attack for his teammates. The one thing that concerned me was Zardes' response to scoring. He seemed more relieved than pleased. His coaches and teammates need to help him regain the joy and confidence that he was showing last season. He's a great young talent, and if he can start having fun again, hopefully we'll see more goals from him.
- Ignacio Maganto (almost) scores: After Maganto's first start a couple of weeks ago, Sean Stefan wrote a piece on his talent and potential. In a quiet but solid match, "Nacho" had a moment of poise and class in the 40th minute, when a ricocheting ball off a set piece fell to him in the box, and he put it in the goal through a sea of legs. It was a beautiful play. Unfortunately, Tommy Meyer found himself in an offside position within the line of site of Dallas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, and the goal was disallowed. Despite that, this moment of class from Maganto provides fans with an optimistic glimpse at what the future might bring.
- Dropping points: Once again, LA is behind the curve as far as accumulating points points in the regular season. Bruce Arena stepped up to take the blame for this, saying:
We didn't do well at the end of the game, the last 15 minutes or so, and that's my responsibility. When a team plays that poorly on the road, they're not well coached. We blew a lot of points this week. We could have walked away with maybe six points this week, instead we walk away with one, and that's my responsibility. I have not done a good job with this team to get them tactically right at the end of games.
- Late-match collapse: LA has become known as a team that is vulnerable to late goals. This match did nothing to dispel that notion. In the positives above, I mentioned the great team defending for the first 75 minutes. Unfortunately, that all fell apart in the last fifteen minutes or so. It was like the team got greedy for a second goal. All of a sudden, the midfielders were slow getting back on defense. As a result, the defenders did not have cover, and were indecisive about closing down attacking players. It was actually reminiscent of the loss to Vancouver earlier this season. The nice thing is that, overwhelmingly, this is what players talked about in post-match comments. Let's hope Arena does his job, and helps them eliminate this problem moving forward.
- Lack of on-field leadership: For the second match in a row, Omar Gonzalez (who, incidentally, is having a great season) wore the captain's arm. Interestingly, Juninho (who was back in the starting lineup again) had worn it before this. It seems that, in the absence of Robbie Keane, the team is in desperate need of some veteran leadership. So far no one has stepped up. Gonzalez needs to be yelling at his midfielders to get back and cover. Juninho needs to be directing traffic. Penedo needs to be a better communicator. Someone has to step it up.
- Still not enough attack: Finally, LA only had five shots in the entire match (not including Maganto's disallowed goal). That's just not enough. The team needs to create more shots. Dallas is a team that has given up thirteen goals this season (the most of any team in the western conference). While the Galaxy did a good job controlling the run of play for much of the match, and preventing a very good Dallas attack from having many clear chances, they were unable to create clear chances for themselves. This may continue to be an ongoing issue until Keane is back in the lineup.