For the past month, the narrative around the league has been about how unstoppable the LA Galaxy attack is. However LA were shut out for the second straight match, as the Montreal Impact came into LA and held the home side to a nil-nil draw. While the Galaxy defense should be pleased for getting their first shut-out in eight matches, there has to be some concern about how disjointed the team has looked going forward.
- Shut-out: It's been a long time coming, but LA finally managed to get a shut-out. This was no mean feat either. Montreal came into this match with new signing Didier Drogba flying high. However, with a couple of exception, the LA defense and midfield did a great job of limiting Drogba's touches and shutting him down. A.J. DeLaGarza and Omar Gonzalez both looked very good against the former Chelsea striker, standing him up, and not letting him dominate them physically. In the end, Drogba and the Montreal attack looked frustrated, which is what you want to see from your opponent.
- Play of national-teamers: On a night when much of the team looked disjointed, a number of LA players that had been logging minutes on international duty actually put in great, workman-like performances for the team. I already mentioned Gonzalez and DeLaGarza above, but I think it's worth pointing out that the latter of these two stalwart defenders played two full matches and traveled half-way around the world and back over the last week and a half. The Guam international still managed to put in 88 minutes and looked extremely effective both defensively and getting forward. The other US international player, Gyasi Zardes, while not stellar on the night, was actually one of the more dangerous attackers on the field, as well as demonstrating his versatility, playing right wing, forward, and left wing as needed. He setup a number of dangerous crosses by taking the ball to the endline and then sending it back into the middle of the penalty box. His defensive play was strong too, as he made seven recoveries and a couple key plays in the box to break-up Montreal attacks. It makes you wonder if the bye week made the rest of the LA squad a little rusty.
- Dave Romney: Romney started at center back for Leonardo (who was suspended because of his red card against San Jose two weeks ago) and the up-and-coming defender played very solidly. At only 22 years old, he seems to have surpassed Tommy Meyer on the depth chart, and he rewarded Bruce Arena's confidence in him with a solid performance. He was tidy on the ball and not at all intimidated by the physicality of Drogba or the speed of Dominic Oduro. He's a great example of the benefits that the Galaxy II are providing this club. That kind of depth is invaluable heading into the playoffs.
- Gerrard and Juninho defensively: Steven Gerrard and Juninho should also get tremendous credit for their role in the shut-out. With the exception of an early play where neither player stepped into the midfield to pressure Ignacio Piatti, their defensive communication was great. They really did a good job controlling the flow of the game in the middle of the field, and preventing Montreal from generating any dangerous attacks.
- Dropped points: Unfortunately, the great defensive performance by the Galaxy was wasted. LA dropped two points, and fell well behind in their race for the Supporters' Shield. If they want to have any chance at all to win the regular season title, they need to win all of their remaining home games, and all but one of their road games (they can really only afford one more draw in all remaining matches). That is looking like an extremely unlikely scenario at this point, which would lead one to believe that Arena will start positioning the team to try to earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs, and no longer really fight for the Shield. That's unfortunate, because this squad may have had a shot at it.
- Direct play: One of the things that killed LA's chances in this match was the fact that they were extremely impatient in the attack. They consistently bypassed the midfield, and the quick combination play that has been so successful for this squad. They tried to play directly to the forwards. Long balls over the top were the order of the day, and that played right into the hands of the Montreal defense, with Victor Cabrera consistently cutting of those passes, logging 8 interceptions, 12 clearances, and 8 recoveries. Most of these plays were on hopeful long balls. If the Galaxy want to return to the success that they saw in the month of August, they need to stop just kicking the ball over the top and hoping for a lucky break. It was frustrating to watch a team that is so skilled on the ball fail to take advantage of that strength.
- Gerrard in the attack: Part of this problem is Steven Gerrard's propensity to try to hit "Hollywood" passes. While the former Liverpool captain was strong defensively, and maintaining possession in the middle third, he was clearly not on the same page as his attacking teammates. He killed a number of promising attacks by hitting balls into space when he expected someone to zig and they zagged. His touch seemed just a little off in the final third, and even when he managed to generate a half-way decent shot, it was labored and uncomfortable, floating over the cross-bar. You can see the underlying quality... but the final product just isn't quite there yet. As long as he rounds into form for the playoffs, the team should be OK.
- Gio: Giovanni Dos Santos was simply bad on the night. It's hard to tell what was going on with the Mexican international. He was subbed off at half-time, reportedly due to a sore groin... but his play was pedestrian at best. He completed only half of his passes, and his set pieces were particularly ineffective (as they, actually, have been during his entire short tenure with LA). In addition, he didn't work hard defensively, and seemed pretty listless. Let's hope that the soft-tissue injury is the only issue here, and that he can find his form again.
- Lack of sharpness: On the whole, the poor play of Gerrard and Gio in the attack were only part of the problem for LA. The whole team exhibited a general lack of sharpness in the attacking third. Sebastian Lletget was shut down by Nigel Reo-Coker on the left side. Robbie Rogers was unable to generate much of an option with his over-lapping runs. Zardes and Robbie Keane both had some bad touches to kill potential attacks, and substitute Baggio Husidic (usually very composed in front of goal) took a big wind-up, and blasted what was probably the team's best chance of the night over the crossbar. At the end of the day, things just never came together on the offensive end of the field for the Galaxy.
So after a couple of poor offensive performances on the trot, this LA squad needs to figure out a way to regain their offensive mojo. Surely other MLS teams will be looking at what San Jose and Montreal did to shut them out, and trying to emulate it. Over the next few weeks, we'll find out whether or not Arena can get his players back on the same page and empower them to impose their will on opposing defenses.