With the Gold Cup tournament opening on Tuesday, there were seven combined players missing between LA and Toronto. Fortunately for LA, they have had a lot of experience this season exploring the depth of their roster, and proved to be better able to compensate for the missing players. The Galaxy ran away with this one, which seems to be a trend over the past few weeks. Let's take a look at positives from this match, as well as the few things that might be considered on the opposite side of the ledger.
- The Keane is back: Robbie Keane has stormed back into form with a vengeance over the past three weeks. He looks to be back where he was during his 2014 MVP performance. Yeah... he got the hat-trick in this match, but more importantly, he's setting up his teammates and scaring opposing defenders. Every time he touched the ball in this match you could see the Toronto players start to freak out. They were converging on him, and leaving space for the rest of the LA attack. This is what was missing through the entire first half of the season. This is the X factor that has made LA the most dangerous attacking team in the league over the past few years. Over the past four matches, the LA attack has scored 15 goals, transforming themselves from one of the lower scoring teams in the league to second in goals per game behind only Sporting Kansas City. That's an amazing transformation, and while Keane may not be the only reason behind it, he certainly is a key part of it.
- Is Tiki-Taco back?: Boy is it fun watching this team attack. While two of the four goals were a little ugly, the other two (the second and fourth) had distinct elements of the tiki-taco football that we were blessed with last season. Keane's second goal went: Dan Gargan -> Stefan Ishizaki -> Baggio Husidic -> Keane -> tap-in goal... in just five touches. On Sebastian Lletget's goal, there were three quick touches between Keane, Lletget, and Ignacio Maganto that opened things up in the midfield to get the attack rolling. That said... we're still not really seeing the criss-crossing runs and dummies that were so prevalent last year, so maybe this is still tiki-taco light. Regardless, I want more.
- Omar-less shut-out: In the lead-up to this match, Omar Gonzalez had played all but 135 five minutes this season. In those 135 minutes, the LA defense had given up 6 goals. That's an average of 4 goals a game. In the 1665 minutes when he was on the field, they had given up 17 goals, or 0.92 goals per game (which would be the second best defense in the league). If the Galaxy wanted to survive Gonzalez's extended absence due to the Gold Cup, they needed to figure out how to stop leaking goals without the big man on the field. They appear to at least have a bit of a handle on the problem. While Toronto weren't at full strength (as noted above), Sebastian Gionvinco is dangerous enough all by himself to cause problems. A.J. DeLaGarza and Leonardo actually did a great job shutting him down (with help from Gargan and Robbie Rogers). In the second half, the entire team was excellent at denying the diminutive attacker the ball. This solid defending leading to the shut-out may, in fact, be the biggest positive coming out of this match.
- Moving Lletget up top late: One move that I found particularly exciting was Bruce Arena's decision to shift Lletget to the role of second attacker when he brought on Maganto for Jose Villareal (who had an excellent match in his own right). While I've seen some reports that Lletget was deployed as an attacking midfielder, it was difficult for me to distinguish his positioning from the role that Gyasi Zardes often plays when he's deployed as a second forward. One of the great revelations of Lletget's recent run of form has been his composed finishing, and he continued that form in this match. His strike in the last minute of stoppage time was a clinical high-near-post finish. The really exciting thing about this is that it was reminiscent of the role that Landon Donovan used to play in killing off opponents late in a match. Arena regularly moved Donovan up top to take advantage of a tired defense. If Lletget can continue to play that role late in games, it can provide yet another weapon for this already stacked attack.
- Toronto suck: Ok. Before things get too out of hand, here, let's remind ourselves that this was a Toronto FC team that has not been very good for most of the season. They have been dangerous in the attack when they have their full compliment of designated players, but have always looked vulnerable in the back. Truth be told, they were lucky not to give up more goals in this one. The poor back pass leading to Keane's third goal was the carbon copy of a similar play in the first half that the Toronto keeper just barely managed to snuff out. The midfielders and defenders often looked like traffic cones, as LA pinged the ball around them. Yeah... LA's attack was clicking, but Toronto's defense was doing themselves no favors, and better defenses are not going to gift this team soft penalty kicks and poor back-passes.
- Another defender goes down: We all had to know this was coming. It's been like this all season long. Early in the second half it was pretty clear that something wasn't right with Gargan. He seemed to be moving slowly, and he had a couple of bad touches that nearly allowed Gionvinco to score. When the trainer came out to look at him, he pretty clearly said, "It's my back." The Galaxy have proven that they can continue to compete even when key players go down, and Oscar Sorto is a great young right back that can be brought up from GII to fill in. However, Gargan has been having a great season, and his experience and intelligence will surely be missed if he has to sit out for any length of time.
- The Ishizaki era is over: This came out of nowhere. As a matter of fact, I didn't know about it until I sat down to write this article. The company line is that Ishi, whose wife is pregnant with twins, wants to be nearer to family in Sweden, so the Galaxy have agreed to release him from the remainder of his contract. During his tenure, the Swedish attacker has been a great asset to this squad, with a deft touch and the ability to send in dangerous crosses from the right. There's no question that he will be missed. While there is more to be said about this, let's just thank Stefan for his service to the team and wish him the best in his future endeavors. If nothing else, this simply reaffirms what we learned from Arena's trades of Mike Magee and Marcelo Sarvas. The savvy coach / general manager knows that if he keeps players happy, and let's them go when they want to go, it's going to make recruiting that much easier. Let's hope that a certain Mexican international is thinking about that as well.