It's been a good week for the LA Galaxy. They beat PSA Elite 6-1 in Wednesday's 4th round US Open Cup match, and followed that up with a 5-1 thrashing of the Philadelphia Union as they resumed MLS play on Saturday evening. It was easily the most complete attacking performance the team has put in this year, but there were still some issues that need to be discussed. Let's get to it!
- A dominant win: The Galaxy came into this match without a multi-goal win since the season opener. All year long, with a rotating lineup, the team has looked disjointed. They've played with a lot of heart, and managed to grind out a respectable, if unimpressive, record. However, this match was different. The team seemed to hit their stride and gain a lot of confidence. They converted their chances and (despite not being dominant in possession) kept their opponent from being to dangerous down the stretch. It was great to see the guys get a decisive win like this.
- Multi-pronged attack: This was a comprehensive attacking performance for LA. I mentioned in the write-up of Wednesday's US Open Cup match that 9 different players had contributed directly to goals. The number for this match wasn't quit as impressive, with "only" seven players on the score-sheet, but five different guys scored goals, and Robbie Keane was not one of them. What we saw was a dynamic attacking team that was able to bring pressure from multiple angles. We saw Gyasi Zardes in the play-maker role, orchestrating the fast break, and providing two assists and two other key passes to his teammates. We saw that guys like Baggio Husidic and Sebastian Lletget have the ability to coolly finish when given the opportunity. It was as close as we've seen to the team playing like they did last year.
- Healthy players: I heard someone talking about how great it was that LA was able to have a first-choice veteran lineup for this match. However, at this point, I'm not sure that LA really has one "first choice" lineup. When all of these guys are healthy, I suspect that Bruce Arena has the luxury to swap players due to tactical considerations. I'm a big booster of Lletget, but Mika Väyrynen got the start over the youngster in this match, possibly to provide defensive cover so that Juninho could play a more attacking role. There's no question that Keane provides an added dimension to LA's attack, but having Jose Villareal and Ignacio Maganto on the bench (not to mention Alan Gordon) allows the team to bring in real dangerous guys late in the match. Having AJ DeLaGarza back in the middle of the defense is never a bad thing either, but it's not clear why Leonardo was not on the bench for this match. Once again, Arena has used the first half of the season to prepare his entire squad to compete for trophies. I think this may, in fact, be the deepest team that LA has ever been able to put together.
- Juninho: While LA's Brazilian box-to-box midfielder has had a tremendous season, his rock solid performances don't often get the attention that they deserve. On Saturday night, Juninho added a bit of flair to his dependability. In the 31st minute of the match, he hit a one-time ball with the outside of his right foot and bent it perfectly sixty yards into the far corner of LA's attacking third, allowing Stefan Ishsizaki to run onto the ball and setup a quality scoring chance for Keane. When he hit that pass, while the ball was in the air, I was sure that he had just randomly kicked to ball over the endline. It was an amazing piece of skill that, as Juni said in the post-match interview, David Beckham "would have been proud of." Moments later, he scored the second goal of the match on a nice late run into the box, and celebrated emphatically with a round-off back flip that (correct me if I'm wrong here, guys) seems to be recently added to his bag of tricks. Overall, it was a great night for the little Brazilian.
- Slow start: While LA ran away with this match, it wasn't a whistle-to-whistle performance that the team can be proud of. In the first fifteen minutes of the match, the Union had five shots (but only one on goal). This was before the Galaxy could manage any real offense at all. The team simply looked flat, and were getting beaten to the ball. Even going into halftime up 2-0, and looking more in control of the match, there wasn't the consistent shut-down mentality that we have seen from this team in some other matches. This manifested itself immediately after the guys had gone up three goals, when they turned around allowed C.J. Sapong to pull a goal back. It was a nicely taken goal by the Union forward, but it really felt like LA had taken their foot off the gas and allowed the Union back into the match. There were other scoring chances for the visitors as well, and in the end LA were probably lucky not to concede one or even two more goals. As Arena said in his post-match interview, "we can play better than we did today."
- Spotty team defense: One of the obvious ways that the team can play better is their over-all defense. As in past matches, I felt like the back line played fairly well, but the defensive cover from the midfield was not consistently there. Husidic and Ishizaki, in particular, were too slow to get back at times. They left the defense exposed and out-numbered on a few occasions. The Galaxy have looked most consistent this season when they stay connected and press as a team. If you look at this match through that lens, it was a bit of a step back. However, this should be a problem that Arena can easily address before the next match.
- This is The Union: This isn't so much a negative for LA, but rather a word of warning. The Union are currently the worst team in MLS. They have a -11 goal differential and are averaging only .88 points per match. They have given up a league high 30 goals this season (seven more than the next closest team). So while LA managed to put a big number on the scoreboard and get a good win out of this match, let's not get ahead of our selves and start clearing out space in the trophy case. LA has a long way to go to get back to the form that they were consistently able to produce last year.
As a Galaxy fan, this week has been the most fun I've had watching the team play since last years' playoff run. Guys are getting healthy and starting to look confident again. We're seeing Zardes emerging from his early-season slump, and the defense looking like their old selves. Young guys like Lletget, Villareal, and Maganto are looking better and better. However, we should have a better idea of where this team really is after their Thursday/Saturday matches in the coming week against Portland and San Jose, respectively. With only a two-day turnaround between matches, it will put the team's new-found depth to the test.
CORRECTION: It looks like the Portland match is on Wednesday, not Thursday... which makes more sense. It is incorrectly listed as being played on Thursday in the MLSSoccer.com results map page.