Steven Gerrard's career as an MLS player is officially underway, and there's no doubt that he is pleased with the way it has started. Gerrard had a goal, an assist, and drew a penalty kick in LA's 5-2 victory of the visiting San Jose Earthquakes. The game also included a hat-trick from captain Robbie Keane.
Unfortunately it wasn't all sweetness and light for the Galaxy, as they gave up two early goals and a number of other clear chances to the well-organized 'Quakes. The upside is that this gives us plenty of fodder for conversation.
- Five goals: Let's not beat around the bush. In the last few weeks, this Galaxy team has gone from a mediocre attacking squad to a juggernaut. They've scored twenty goals in their last five MLS matches. They are generating chances like there is no tomorrow. The best thing is lots of guys are getting into it. Over this stretch nine different players have scored goals for LA. Of course, Stefan Ishizaki is no longer with the team, but there are a couple of guys who aren't on that list of scorers that the team may be able to count on to put some away in the future (Alan Gordon, and this new guy from Mexico). There's no reason to believe this squad is not capable of continuing to score goals in bunches. If the squad clicks when Giovani Dos Santos arrives, they could well be the most dangerous attacking squad in MLS history.
- Sebastian Lletget: One of the biggest reasons that LA has gone from scoring an average of less than a goal per game to their current torrid rate is the emergence of Lletget as a calming presence on the ball and a composed finisher. The former West Ham player has emerged as the most consistent threat coming out of the midfield. While his two British teammates may grab the headlines from this match, Lletget was a consistent threat on the left side. His clean touch helped the team maintain possession, and his calm in front of the goal created a shot off the underside of the crossbar in the 52nd minute, and ultimately a goal in stoppage time off of a powerful and well-placed header. Even with the summer signings of Gerrard and Dos Santos, Lletget may prove to the most important acquisition for the Galaxy in the long run.
- Dominating possession: While Lletget has really helped LA maintain possession, he is just one piece of that puzzle. The team had nearly 66% of possession in this match and simply wore San Jose down. After a rough early patch, they began to move the ball around cleanly and efficiently and provide patient yet probing passes that constantly threatened to crack the 'Quakes defense. A big part of the ability to play this dangerous style of possession game is the hard work done by guys like Juninho, Kenny Walker, Baggio Husidic and the wide defenders (Dan Gargan and Robbie Rogers). These guys often don't get the credit they deserve for their quality on the ball. With the possible exception of Juninho, they are not considered outstanding MLS players, and yet Bruce Arena has them working together as a team that can control the run of play against any other MLS squad.
- Brian Rowe: Rowe has done a great job filling in for Jaime Penedo during the Panamanian's stint with his national team. The young keeper has looked more and more confident in his abilities to control his area and snuff out dangerous opportunities for his opponents. He still may not be quite as good at stopping shots as Penedo, but he is looking much better at handling crosses. In this match he cut out several really dangerous serves into the box. LA goalkeeper coach Matt Reis should get some credit for helping Rowe develop his game. With rumors that Penedo may be looking to move, having this young prospect playing confidently is reassuring.
- Missing players: So this Galaxy squad has looked good of late. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that they are missing their first choice goalkeeper, one of the leagues best defenders (in Omar Gonzalez), last year's second leading scorer (in Gyasi Zardes), and one of the most promising young players from Mexico (in Dos Santos). If you add these guys to the already potent team that played against San Jose, it's hard to imagine how high their ceiling could be.
- Poor marking: For all the excitement about the beautiful attacking play that LA exhibited in this match, if you're a fan, you can't help but worry about how vulnerable they looked in the back. The midfield and the defense need to get on the same page. There needs to be better communication about who has what responsibilities. The second San Jose goal was the most egregious example of this weakness. On a free kick from a dangerous position, Rogers found himself marking three San Jose players ten yards away from his own goal. Leonardo and Dan Gargan both lost their marks, and Leo looked like he gave up on the play, leaving Clarence Goodson (the tallest player on the San Jose squad) running alone through the box. If LA continue to defend like that, it won't matter how good they are in the attack. They will drop points to their opponents through the rest of the season and be vulnerable in the playoffs.
- Susceptibility to the counter: Once again on the theme of poor defending, the Galaxy have to be better about tracking runners in the midfield and minimizing opponents' ability to create chances on the counter attack. Realistically, San Jose could have been up 3-4 goals before LA managed to get their first. The offside trap was not working, and Quincy Amarikwa was able to get in alone on Rowe too often in the early going. The first San Jose goal came on a counter when the entire LA squad seemed to be looking to get forward. Lletget and Rogers were both pushing up on the left, and A.J. DeLaGarza was caught moving forward in the middle. As a result, Sanna Nyassi was able to easily get behind Rogers and send in a simple cross on the ground that Amarikwa calmly put away. This type of mistake from LA is to be expected with the new mix of players and their confidence to get forward. However, it is also the type of mistake that costs teams in the playoffs, and needs to be eliminated.
- Robbie Rogers: It may be a little unfair to single out Rogers. As I mentioned above, he has been a great possession player for LA this season. However, he had a really rough game against San Jose. He was not vigilant enough in his defending, and had a number of bad give-aways in the middle of the park. Rogers is a quality player, but he needs to do better.
- Missing players: As I mentioned above, LA has four key players coming back in to the fold in the next month or so. The question is whether or not these four guys are going to make the squad better or disrupt the positive vibe that the team has going right now. The defensive problems that I mention above may, largely, be due to the changes in personnel. If you throw Dos Santos and Zardes into this lineup in place of Walker and Husidic does that just make the problem worse? If you're looking for a dark cloud to accompany the silver lining that the last few weeks have shown to Galaxy fans, this could be it. Most fans hope that Arena has the skills to manage this potential issue, but it should not be taken for granted. It's a real problem that will need to be resolved.