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Positives and Negatives: LA Galaxy at Houston Dynamo

The Galaxy's road woes continued, as the team was routed 3-0 by a solid Houston team in hot and humid conditions.

Bruce Arena didn't have a lot to be happy about in Houston.
Bruce Arena didn't have a lot to be happy about in Houston.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a year since the LA Galaxy has won a game on the road.

That's right... an entire year.

Houston added insult to injury (and suspension), thrashing a Galaxy team that has missed players so regularly this year that, rumor has it, the team has officially changed their name to the "Shorthanded LA Galaxy." In addition to Jaime Penedo, Omar Gonzalez, Gyasi Zardes, Alan Gordon, (and new signing) Giovani Dos Santos being away with their respective national teams, LA were missing Robbie Rogers due to yellow card accumulation and Jose Villarreal and Baggio Husidic due to injury.

The effects of these absences, coupled with hot and humid conditions, and very strong tactical play by the Dymamo all contributed to this loss. Let's talk about it in more detail.

Positives:

  • Good possession: Starting with the good things about the match... LA were able to possess the ball very well. They had more than 60% of possession, an advantage that they maintained both before and after Houston took the lead. In addition, the possession advantage was even greater until the team began to fade from the heat over the last twenty minutes of the match. While the team failed to turn that possession into real scoring threats, it is a testament to the job the coaching staff is doing when you are forced to dig so deeply into your reserves and still manage to have players who know how to calmly hold onto the ball.
  • More depth: Speaking of young players... it has to be a positive for Galaxy fans when you see guys like Bradford Jameison IV, Kenny Walker, and newcomers David Romney and Ariel Lassiter stepping into the lineup and not looking completely out of place. As a guy who doesn't like the mid-summer friendlies that LA often participate in, I have to admit that those matches did give these young guys a chance to get some minutes on the field and develop a little confidence. While the quality of all four guys is still not up to the standard that LA need from regular starters if they want to continue to win championships, these guys definitely have a role to play on this team. Perhaps more importantly, the more quality guys you have in the pipeline, the more likely that it will spit out a player worth sixteen goals in a season. If you couple that development pipeline with the ability to go out and buy one or two top players every year or so, you have the makings of a dynasty. That should be at least a little comforting, even in the wake of a 3-0 drubbing.
  • Brian Rowe: While 3-0 is generally seen as an ugly score for a goalkeeper (if you're on the losing end), I think it's important to recognize what a great job Brian Rowe continues to do for this team. I mentioned his play last week as well, and he continues to impress me. He was very strong controlling his box in this match, despite going up against a number of big, strong, physical guys on the Houston squad. He took a couple of tough hits going up for the ball, and did a good job not conceding the rebound. In addition, his shot-stopping (one area where Jaime Penedo has a clear advantage) looked quite good, as he parried away a number of dangerous shots from Houston attackers. While he may have had a shot at saving Brad Davis's shot on the second goal (it looks to me like he got a hand on it), he really had no chances on the first and third. Over-all, it was a very solid performance.
  • Bruce has got this: Despite a poor overall performance by the squad, I think it's important to remember that Arena is essentially rebuilding this team in mid season. The types of mistakes that we saw in this match (many of which I'll mention below) are typical of teams with players who are not familiar with one another. The great news on this front, is that this is the type of problem that the LA coach generally excels at addressing. Arena has (literally) made a career of bringing together a set of guys with varying levels of skill and turning them into a cohesive unit that is capable of competing with anyone. While the fans may be in for a bit of a rough patch for the next few weeks, they should be confident that everything is under control.

Negatives:

  • No penetration: As I mentioned above, the Galaxy did a great job holding on to the ball during this match. Unfortunately, they were horrible at getting it anywhere near the Houston goal. The team only managed to generate seven shots in the match. That's half the number of their opponents. Not only that, but none of those shots were particularly dangerous. Now part of that may go down to the way the game played out. Getting an early goal gave Houston the ability to sit back and defend with numbers. However, this LA squad (even when depleted) should be able to break down that sort of defensive shell. Why couldn't they?
  • No cohesiveness in the attack: With Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Juninho, Jameison, and Sebastian Lletget all on the field, the quality is there to break down a bunker... but this is a team in the process of rebirth. Everybody seemed to be just a little bit off. Players were forcing the ball in to Keane and Gerrard instead of taking what the defense was giving. The young guys were a little too deferential. The two stars were having trouble connecting with one another, and as a result the attack looked anemic and disjointed. Hopefully that understanding will come with time. However, when Dos Santos gets to LA, and as the other players missing for various reasons are reintegrated into the team, we may continue to see the types of Jekyll and Hyde performances that the team has been showing over the last few weeks. As long as they can ride out the storm without losing too many points, they should come together for the playoffs.
  • Poor defending in the midfield: Another manifestation of this lack of cohesiveness is poor defending in the midfield. Quite frankly, this has me a little more concerned. On the second goal, Lletget left Brad Davis unmarked at the top of the penalty arc for what seemed like an eternity. Former Galaxy midfielder Nathan Sturgis eventually picked him out, and Davis delivered the ball into the back of the net. This is only one of many times when the midfield were overrun because LA players were looking to attack instead of getting back and shutting down their opponents. This is only going to get worse when Dos Santos is inserted into the lineup. It will be interesting to see how Arena handles this. It may prove to be a major issue. What we don't want is a team that looks like the Ruud Gullit coached teams from the pre-Arena era. Grinding out results would be preferable to beautiful, open, flowing losses.
  • Leonardo: The last negative that I want to touch on is the play of Leonardo. After playing quite well for the first part of the season, he has slipped in form again. He has lapses in concentration when he seems to get caught ball-watching, resulting in being out of position, and giving up a stellar chance. That's what happened on the first goal, where, for no apparent reason, he lost Wil Bruin six yards in front of the goal, allowing the Houston striker to take a perfect feed from Davis and slot it past Rowe. This mistake changed the tenor of the match, and allowed the Dynamo to take advantage of the heat and humidity, sit back, and wear LA down.
So once again, LA have dropped points on the road. Luckily, the rest of the Western Conference seems intent on beating each other up, so the team is still in the thick of the playoff race. If Arena is able to bring together all of his new, dynamic attacking players and get them on the same page, this will be a very good team. If not, we are likely to see a lot of "exciting" soccer for the rest of 2015. Some of it will be good, some of it will be bad: but it will most definitely be exciting.