The LA Galaxy flew to Columbus to take on Crew FC on Saturday evening. After a rain delay of more than two hours, the two squads fought to a 1-1 draw. The result was probably a fair one, but LA may well have had the better of the chances. In the end, though, the result was similar to what we have seen for much of the season with LA: solid play, a reasonable result, but not all that fun to watch. Let's look at that take-aways:
- Team defending: Perhaps the best aspect of this match was the solid play by LA's defense, lead by Omar Gonzales. Columbus came into the match with a prolific offense featuring 1.43 goals per match. LA limited them to only eleven shots, and four on goal. Going into the second half, Columbus' most dangerous play had been an attempted Olympico by Federico Higuaín. While the back line was solid and well-organized, Bruce Arena's choice to deploy a 4-2-3-1 allowed LA to neutralize the Crew's midfield and prevent Higuaín from finding runners in dangerous positions.
- Controlling the space: A second aspect of the strong defense was LA's ability to control the space on the field. Despite the fact that the Crew managed to complete nearly 130 more passes than LA, those passes were overwhelmingly in their own half of the field. They only managed to complete five more passes in the attacking half. If LA can continue to defend that efficiently, the team should do well when they get back their more dangerous attacking players.
- Result on the road: Win at home, tie on the road. It seems like I say it every week. LA managed this game very efficiently, and managed to get that draw, giving themselves a point, and depriving their opponents of two. With the squad's continued lineup rotation, that's pretty impressive.
- Young guys continue to step up: While Arena made the interesting decision to leave Ignacio Maganto on the bench, LA once again showed that their young guys are ready to contribute. Jose Villareal and Sebastian Lletget both stepped it up and played very well. Lletget is getting all the attention for his goal, but he was also the most dangerous attacker on the pitch for LA. He had four of the Galaxy's twelve shots and an additional key pass. He looked confident and calm on the ball, and (with the exception of one late break-way with Gyasi Zardes) his decision-making was nearly flawless. Villareal, on the other hand was asked to play as the lone striker for the first two-thirds of the match. This was a huge job for Arena to hand to a 21-year-old kid who's 5'8" and 160 pounds. None-the-less, Villareal did an outstanding job finding space and playing with his back to the goal to help LA maintain possession. Ultimately, the youngster will make his name as a second forward and/or an attacking midfielder, but his ability to fill in as a target in a pinch is pretty impressive.
- Creativity from multiple players: For much of the season, Stefan Ishizaki has been the danger man for LA coming out of the midfield. His ability to attack down the right and send in dangerous crosses has been virtually the only consistent weapon LA has displayed. This match was different, though. In addition to the quality play by Lletget and Villareal, Robbie Rogers was a force of nature in the first half. He looked strong on the ball, quick in his decision making, and dangerous off the dribble. It was his run that setup LA's goal, and if he were a little sharper in the box (how many times have we heard that?) he could have had a goal of his own. Ishizaki, while having a bit of a quiet game, still managed to score a goal that was disallowed on a debatable foul call. If LA can get everyone healthy, it may be tough to find enough playing time for all of these guys.
- Missing players: Speaking of player health... LA once again had to start an untried new lineup. Robbie Keane and AJ DeLaGarza both seem to have regained their health just in time to go play for their national teams. Zardes flew back to the US after an impressive couple of matches for the US national team, and Edson Buddle was a late scratch from the lineup because of muscle problems that Arena blamed on the rain delay. We are now more than three months into this season, at the half-way point in terms of matches played, and we still don't really have any idea what our best lineup is. It seems that nearly a third of the squad is unavailable for every match. As far as I'm concerned, the all-star break can't come soon enough.
- Mika Väyrynen: While Juninho has been LA's stalwart in the middle of the field, his partner, Finish international Mika Väyrynen, has yet to settle into MLS. Väyrynen has looked overwhelmed, disinterested, and ineffective this season. It's not that he's been horrible (he shows occasional touches of class), it's just that he never seems like he's all there. It's almost like he's sleep-walking through matches. In particular, he was covering back for Rogers when Ethan Finlay was able to make the run to the end-line to setup the Crew's goal. Väyrynen looked like he simply gave up on the play instead of trying to stay with Finlay, or moving inside to help defend. I feel like he needs to do a little more to help out his teammates.
- Attack still not there: While I spent a lot of time above praising the attacking play of our young guys, it's still not good enough. LA needs to create more chances and be more lethal about converting them. Of course, if Keane can get back in the lineup and regain his form, that will make a huge difference. Add Steven Gerrard (and maybe another mid-season pickup) to the squad, and we may have a team that can compete for another championship. However, as things stand now, LA is simply a middle of the table club, and that's all on the attack (or lack thereof).
- Need to make up points: Once again, I know that I harp on the "win at home draw on the road" formula for success, but thus far this season, the Galaxy have dropped so many points that they need to start making a few up. This was a good solid showing for the team, but once again I can't help but feel that with a little better effort the team comes away with the win. At some point, they need to get a win or two on the road to make up for their draws and loss at home. Sooner is better than later.
It seems that we're faced with the reality that this team, as currently constructed, is not a contender for a league title. Seattle are currently the clear front-runners, and if LA wants to continue to be considered an elite team, they simply need to get better. As a fan, I have some hope that getting players back and picking up some new guys in the summer transfer window can help. However, with the Gold Cup coming up, it looks like the Galaxy may lack their full compliment of players until August. With that in mind, this could continue to be a trying season for LA fans.