The LA Galaxy managed to get a point on the road against the defending Eastern Conference champions under very difficult conditions on Sunday evening. Injury woes continued to plague the squad, and the driving rain was anything but hospitable, making the always unpredictable artificial surface in Foxboro even more difficult to play on. In fairness, their opponent, the New England Revolution were also short-handed, and had to play in the same conditions. The result was a back-and-forth match that was difficult to draw many conclusions from. None-the-less, I'm gonna do my best.
- High-pressure attacking play: In a tactical move that we haven't see a lot this year on the road, Bruce Arena had his players come out of the gate with a high press pushing numbers forward into the attack. While there was a down side to this (we'll talk about that below), it lead to a wide-open first half of play where LA were the better team. They out-shot New England 7-5 and had the majority of possession for much of the match. They created a number of dangerous chances, and really could have had a couple more goals with a little luck. It's likely that Arena saw the depleted Revs lineup (missing Lee Nguyen and Chris Tierney due to suspension) and thought that this was a good opportunity to get three points on the road. In the end, with the conditions and the injuries the team sustained, he was satisfied with the draw.
- Young guys stepping up: This match displayed both the ups and downs that young players tend to go through. However, the net result was clearly a positive. Ignacio Maganato, Jose Villarreal, and Gyasi Zardes all had some very good moments in this match. Villarreal was involved in both goals, getting behind the defense and sending the ball back into the middle to set up Maganto's stellar strike for the first goal, and settling an errant pass from Maganto with deft touch and a quick back-heel to setup Zardes' text-book finish. The fact that Maganto and Zardes were both able to get on the score-sheet with beautiful goals should do good things for the players' confidence moving forward. In addition to the young guns on the attack, after a rough opening fifteen minutes, Oscar Sorto settled in and played a very solid 75 minutes at left back. Not only was he good defensively, but he showed his poise and creativity in the attack, with one particularly beautiful switch of the ball in the 80th minute. As he gets more experience and confidence, he should become a more consistent defender who can be create problems for his opponents getting forward.
- Decent defending: While the team defense looked a little shaky in the first fifteen minutes, they rounded into form for much of the match. After giving up a couple early chances (and a goal) they clamped down on the New England attackers and didn't give away anything cheaply. New England's second goal (a well-executed free-kick by Diego Fagundez) was a little unlucky, and based on the make-shift back line that LA are currently cobbling together, a performance like this is something they can draw some confidence from moving forward.
- Imposing their will: One of the things that was remarkable about this match was that the Galaxy seemed to be able to dictate the pace. While New England exploited a couple of early mental lapses, the flow of play seemed to be in LA's favor all night. Galaxy players pushed the tempo early in both halves, and tended to have the better of possession when they were looking to hold the ball. As the game moved into its later stages, the team was happy to cede the ball to New England, play compact defense, and hit them with the counter-attack. During this stage of the game, the Revs attack devolved into a series of crosses into the box (both from set pieces and open play), which played to the strength of Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo as center backs. The ability to control the flow of the match like this on the road was a good sign for the team.
- Juninho: It's so easy to overlook Juninho in a match like this, but, with the possible exception of Gonzalez, he has been the most consistent player on the Galaxy roster this year. The little Brazilian lead the team with 64 for touches, he cycled the ball around to help the squad maintain possession, and (most importantly) he constantly pressured the Revs midfield and jumped their passing lanes, making it difficult for them to put together a coherent attack. It's tough to underestimate the positive impact that Juninho has on this squad, and LA fans should be thankful to have him.
- Depth, depth, depth: Injuries once again provided an opportunity for Arena to showcase the flexibility and preparedness of his role-players. Sorto and Maganto would likely not have been on the pitch if it weren't for injuries. Alan Gordon came on for Villarreal and put in a good shift until a knee injury sent him to the locker room. Edson Buddle replaced Gordon, and while not looking stellar, did what needed to be done to help the team get the road draw. Of course, the ultimate swiss-army-knife for this Galaxy this season has been Baggio Hussidic, who once again started in the central midfield and did a great job controlling that area for 65 minutes until Dan Gargan went down with an injury. At that point, he shifted to right back and helped the defense shut down the New England attack for the remainder of the match. It was a great effort by all of these guys, and a testament to the buy-in that Arena is able to get from his players.
- Early defensive lapses: You may have noticed that a number of my positive points above start with the caveat "with the exception of the first fifteen minutes." Well... the first fifteen minutes of the match showed us what lack of focus on the defense can do to you. Unfortunately, Sorto was the main culprit here. He let Charlie Davies run right by him in the first minute of the game and get a one-v-one with Jaime Penedo. LA were lucky Davies drove the ball into the stands instead of the goal. In addition, New England's first goal was mostly on Sorto, who stood at the penalty spot watching the ball as Teal Bunbury ghosted into the space behind him to deposit a Scott Caldwell cross into the back of the net. Sorto will get better, but as Arena said in his post-match comments, "He’s got to start games better... have more confidence... and that’s obviously partly due to not having enough experience, but he’s going to get his chances this year and he’s got to grow each and every game."
- Leaving points on the table: Unlike some earlier matches where the Galaxy gave up points late in the game turning a win into a tie, or a draw into a loss, the team was able to buckle down and get the road point on this occasion. However, I couldn't help but feel that this depleted New England squad was there for the taking. Going into the night, most fans and players would have been happy with the draw, but coming out of this match there is a grim satisfaction that the job was done, but a tickling in the back of the mind that the team could have had more.
- Injuries, injuries, injuries: I can't tell you how tired I am of talking about injuries in this column... but there just doesn't seem to be any way to avoid it. As I mentioned above, the squad suffered three more injury setbacks on the night: seeing Villarreal going down with a shoulder injury, Gargan out with an undisclosed injury, and Gordon, who came in for Villarreal, out with a bad knee. After the match Arena made a reference to the playing surface, saying, "We’ve gotten a lot on injuries on turf this year and I think if your body is not conditioned for it, it’s difficult and we’ve suffered a lot of injuries on the artificial fields." All-in-all, it looks like it was a very wise move to leave Robbie Keane at home for this one. As fans, we just need to hope that Keane and his injured teammates are match fit soon. With those players out and Zardes being called up the the US National Team camp, LA may have a tough time fielding a squad for the next couple of weeks.
So as the month of May grinds to a close, LA go out with a nice stretch, picking up seven points in ten days, and conforming to the "win at home, draw on the road" formula for success. Let's hope they can keep it up as the come home to face Vancouver next Saturday.