The LA Galaxy started their three-game road trip with a gritty draw under tough conditions. Not long ago a draw in Salt Lake City with a depleted lineup would have been seen as an excellent result, but in light of recent performances by both clubs, this somehow feels like a missed opportunity. Let's talk about what we may have learned from this match.
- Staying in the hunt: As I've said many other times, results matter. At the end of the season, in MLS, making the playoffs and giving yourself a shot at MLS cup is what the regular season is really all about. LA got another point on the road and deprived their opponents of two more points. That's a formula for success.
- Overcoming adversity: It's hard to remember a time when the Galaxy have had a more depleted lineup. The shuffling of players has become the norm in the Bruce Arena era (this was yet another new starting line-up), but rarely have we seen so many guys out of commission at the same time. LA started this match with seven players not dressing, and had to scratch Juninho from the starting lineup due to illness. In addition the rain delay and high winds, lead to sub-optimal field conditions. All-in-all, getting results in conditions such as these can be the difference between making the playoffs and going home for an early off-season.
- The aerial attack: Stefan Ishizaki and Alan Gordon both showed why they are on the team. They combined to produce a number of dangerous opportunities. Ishizaki continues to lead the team in key passes, pumping in five crosses (four off of corner kicks) that lead to shots. Gordon provided excellent hold-up play in what was otherwise a disjointed LA possession game, but more importantly, contibuted five of the Galaxy's nine shots, including a dangerous header in the 66th minute that forced Nick Rimando to tip the ball over the crossbar. One of the great things about this LA squad is that with Gordon and Omar Gonzalez in the lineup, no matter how tough the conditions, the team always has a chance to generate a goal off of a set piece.
- Solid defending: With a couple of exceptions, the LA defense had another solid night. The team defending that this squad has demonstrated over the past six matches, where they have given up a total of five goals, has been exemplary. The Galaxy limited Salt Lake to only eleven shots, and many of those were speculative efforts from distance. When RSL players did get opportunities, they were mostly half-chances. The quality defense that LA continues to play has a snowball effect on other teams. Opposing players know that they are only going to get a few chances, and that increases the pressure associated with those opportunities.
- Jaime Penedo: While the team defending was solid on the night, once again, the goalkeeping was just as good, if not better. Penedo made at least three big stops, perhaps the toughest being a deflected shot from Alvaro Saborio in the 77th minute. Penedo had already left his feet when the ball changed direction, but he was able to reach back and up and parry the ball around the right-hand post. In addition, he looked solid controlling his area, coming out and catching or punching away crosses lobbed in to RSL's big attackers. The LA goalkeeper's form over the past several matches continues to inspire confidence in the rest of the defense.
- Continued ugly play: As a fan of soccer, this LA squad has become very tough to watch. Actually... let me modify that. As a fan of attacking soccer, the squad can be a real challenge. While the team has great cohesiveness on the defensive side of the ball, it is lacking the quality to string together passes and break down a defense. Without Robbie Keane in the line-up, the team's only attacking threat seems to be lobbing balls into the box and letting Gyasi Zardes, Gordon, or Gonzalez knock them toward the goal. Even the penalty kick was earned using this formula. The Galaxy need to regain their composure on the ball, and get sharper in their passing. The sixty-four-million-dollar question is whether or not this squad has the quality to make that happen.
- Squandered opportunity: I know that I go on-and-on about how results are what matter... but with the team dropping points at home last weekend, this match was an incredible opportunity to make up some lost ground. While, on the whole, the team has not looked great this season, they have had the opportunity for a result in all but one match. Unfortunately, on too many occasions, the squad has not had the sharpness to take advantage of those opportunities.
- Who takes the PK? So in the 91st minute, when Gonzalez was dragged down in the penalty box, my first response was not one of excitement at the opportunity to pull out a late winner. Instead, I looked at RSL's notoriously tough goalkeeper and at LA's depleted lineup and thought, "Odds are, we're not scoring on this." Unfortunately, my pessimism proved to be prophetic. Juninho's mediocre PK attempt was, somewhat routinely, parried away by Rimando. So this raises the question... who on this LA squad takes the next PK if Keane is still unavailable? After so many years of having guys who could step up with a certain level of confidence, this is, perhaps, the the most obvious indicator of what ails this Galaxy squad: the lack of a swashbuckling attacker who inspires confidence in his teammates. In that situation, it sure would be great to have a player like... oh, I don't know... maybe Stephen Gerrard?