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Jelle Van Damme and Ashley Cole signings could create tough decisions on LA Galaxy back line

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With unprecedented depth on the back line, Bruce Arena will face some tough decisions going into the 2016 season.

Michael Dodge/Getty Images

With the recent reports suggesting the LA Galaxy are closing in on Ashley Cole and Jelle Van Damme, the Galaxy's defense is starting to come into focus. Bruce Arena has made a point to build depth at each position this off-season, and, assuming the Galaxy add Cole and Van Damme, nowhere is this more apparent than on the back line, as can be seen by the alphabetized depth chart below.

LB

CB

RB

Ashley Cole

A.J. DeLaGarza

A.J. DeLaGarza

Dave Romney

Daniel Steres

Dan Gargan

Jelle Van Damme

Dave Romney

Oscar Sorto

Robbie Rogers

Jeff Larentowicz

Robbie Rogers


Jelle Van Damme



Leonardo


With so much depth and versatility along that back line, Bruce Arena will have a tough task ahead of him trying to figure out where everybody falls in the depth chart, and, if you assume that Jelle Van Damme and Ashley Cole are not being brought in to ride the bench, and, at the very least, will see fairly significant minutes by way of platooning, simple logic suggests that guys like A.J. DeLaGarza, Robbie Rogers and Leonardo, could see less time as a result.

Robbie Rogers

Let's look at Robbie Rogers.  If Ashley Cole is being brought in to get a significant amount of minutes, this means that Robbie will either be benched more or play mostly as a right back. For those who think a move to right back is farfetched since Robbie is a "left-sided player," it's important to note what kind of a left-sided player Robbie is. Rogers is right footed and began his career in Columbus playing as an inverted left midfielder, as his ability to cut inside and shoot on his strong foot was advantageous for that team.

Rogers' move to left back was a move of necessity, as the Galaxy were in need of left back depth. While Rogers' ability to provide attacking width as a left back has been particularly strong, his crosses are coming on his weaker foot.  All things being equal, right back simply makes more sense for him, since our system does not encourage inverted runs from the fullback position. Finally on this point, it's worth noting that I was on hand for a closed door pre-season scrimmage last year against the Seattle Sounders in which Robbie Rogers was playing right back, and I can attest that it's a position he looked incredibly comfortable in on the day.

Moving Robbie Rogers to right back isn't nearly as radical as it initially sounds, and, when you consider his numbers, benching him more might be downright crazy.  You don't really need stats to realize that Robbie Rogers is an elite left back in MLS, but they certainly put into perspective just how elite he is.

The following chart looks at defensive actions (tackles, interceptions and blocked shots) weighted against passes against (this is done to strip the bias we see in the data if we simply look at defensive actions per 90, since teams who concede more possession, offer more opportunities for their players to make defensive actions). When you look at pass adjusted defensive actions per 90, he's 4th best in the league amongst players with 1000 minutes or more at left back.

Left backs

Name

Mins

Defensive actions per 90

Passes allowed per defensive action per 90

Ryan Hollingshead

1172

8.7

44.80031

Demar Phillips

1339

7.5

48.88681

Fabinho

1983

7.9

55.38979

Robbie Rogers

2356

7

57.54078

Kemar Lawrence

2180

5.7

66.9974

Amadou Dia

1066

5.4

68.72487

DaMarcus Beasley

2375

5.5

70.39703

Chris Wingert

1064

5.5

72.47356

Abdoulie Mansally

1235

4.9

74.82675

Shaun Francis

1559

5.3

75.29241

And this is just from a defensive standpoint. The modern fullback has to balance attacking and defensive responsibilities, and this is where Robbie Rogers really stands out. Not only is he a top 5 left back in terms of defensive actions, he's also 6th in touch percentage amongst defenders in the league with 1000 minutes or more.

Player

Touch%

Sean Franklin

0.134

DaMarcus Beasley

0.126

Fabio Alves Macedo

0.125

Alvas Powell

0.125

Demar Phillips

0.122

Robbie Rogers

0.12

Luke Boden

0.117

Taylor Kemp

0.117

Chris Tierney

0.116

Abdoulie Mansally

0.115

The final wrinkle to consider with Rogers is his injury history. Robbie Rogers missed 7 games last year due to injury and recently had off-season surgery for a bone spur on his ankle. Had the Galaxy had better left back depth last year, Robbie probably would have missed even more games.

Given his injury history, Rogers will most likely miss some more games at some point this year, and when that time comes, the depth provided by Ashley Cole will come in handy. That being said, it's hard to see Ashley Cole being relegated to a purely second-string option, which means he'll most likely see more minutes at left back than most back-ups in the league.

Logically, this will either require Rogers to see more of the bench or play some time at right back. Given the numbers above, benching Rogers for reasons other than injury would be pretty crazy. The alternative, however, is a move to right back which raises the question of what the Galaxy are going to do with A.J. DeLaGarza.

A.J. DeLaGarza

While DeLaGarza does not get forward as much Rogers, he's an equally elite fullback on the defensive side of the ball, ranking 4th amongst players with 1000 minutes or more at right back, in pass adjusted defensive metrics.

Name

Mins

Defensive actions

Passes allowed per defensive action

Alvas Powell

3027

8

49.52829

Connor Lade

1186

7.1

53.78665

Chris Duvall

1260

6.2

61.59438

A.J. DeLaGarza

1274

6.5

61.96699

Tony Beltran

2504

5.4

67.89834

Raymon Gaddis

1858

6.3

69.45703

Justin Morrow

1161

5.8

69.63495

London Woodberry

1321

6

70.30282

Atiba Harris

1764

5.4

72.17827

Dan Gargan

1630

5.4

74.5899

Given his MLS pedigree, benching DeLaGarza more to accommodate Cole seems just as absurd as doing this with Rogers. Of course, like Rogers, A.J. can slide to another position. Many fans and analysts alike, including myself, have long argued that A.J. DeLaGarza's best position is center back. The Galaxy can, therefore, have a back line of Cole Van Damme DeLaGarza and Rogers.

The problem, however, is that Bruce Arena's roster choices over the years strongly suggest that he has Leonardo ahead of DeLaGarza on his CB depth chart. Given his affinity for Leonardo, it's highly likely he'll see more minutes than A.J or Robbie.

The merits of platooning

Of course, just like Rogers, both A.J. DeLaGarza and Leonardo have a history of injury, so the end result of all these moves gives the Galaxy cover if players go down. Platooning the back line over the early season would also theoretically decrease the probability of wear and tear injuries on these players.

Given how strong Rogers and DeLaGarza are at their positions, the effectiveness of such a strategy would ultimately come down to Cole and Van Damme's quality at the position. If Cole is anywhere near as strong as Rogers and DeLaGarza as a fullback, and Van Damme anywhere near as good as DeLaGarza at center back, the added rest given to these guys would certainly be a plus.

If Cole and Van Damme prove to be downgrades, it'll be hard to justify sending two of the best defenders in the league to the bench more in order to accommodate these transfers.