The LA Galaxy continued their strong home form with a 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes, but it was an odd game. Steven Gerrard left the game in the 4th minute with what appeared to be a calf injury. Baggio Husidic replaced the former England international, and LA dominated possession for the entire first half while out-shooting their opponents 7-1. In spite of that, the team didn't look terribly dangerous, as the 'Quakes seemed content to sit back in a defensive shell and absorb pressure.
All of that changed at the stroke of halftime, when San Jose midfielder Simon Dawkins was shown a straight red card for a scissoring tackle on Sebastian Lletget. As a result, LA dominated the second half, which only really opened up after they had taken a 2-0 lead. Because of that, it's tough to know for sure what we can take away from this match. We're going to do our best none-the-less.
- Gyasi Zardes scores goals: That's right. We saw 2014 Zardes in this match. He used his composure and athleticism to put away a couple of chances that fell to him in odd circumstances. The first was actually on a nice headed assist from Jelle Van Damme off a Mike Magee cross, where Gyasi used his quickness to poke the ball home at the far post despite being flanked by two San Jose players. The second goal was on an errant clearance by a San Jose defender of a long ball from Van Damme to Magee. Zardes calmly redirected the ball into the net with one touch, putting just enough power on it to beat a sprawling David Bingham. The reality is that Zardes' game has never really been a thing of beauty. He simply uses his speed and strength to get in good positions, and is most effective when he's limiting his touches, and moving the ball quickly. The fact that he was able to get in the goal mouth and knock a couple of balls into the net bodes well for his confidence moving forward.
- Controlling possession: I know that it's tough to read too much into possession numbers when one team plays half the match with a man advantage, but (as I mentioned above) LA was already controlling possession before the red card. The team actually looked much more cohesive than they have in their previous two matches. The midfield was more dynamic, and seemed to do a better job showing for the ball. In addition, the ball seemed to move much more quickly, with more sequences of one-touch passing helping to work the ball away from pressure. San Jose played a very physical game (as is their bent), but it was exacerbated by the fact that they were constantly chasing the ball. Let's hope that this is a sign that the team is starting to come together and the players are developing a little better understanding of one-another.
- Husidic pulls his weight: When Gerrard went down in the fourth minute, Husidic came on to fill the role of attacking midfielder, and did a great job. There's no question that he lacks some of the former Liverpool captain's sublime skill. His touch can be clunky at times, and he's not going to be executing beautiful free kicks, or making seeing-eyed passes from sixty yards. However, what Husidic does do is move. He showed well for the ball, and he provided defensive cover for his teammates. He also didn't dwell on the ball, making simple, quick passes, completing roughly 96% of them, and not having any dangerous give-aways. Over-all, it could be argued that his introduction to the match actually improved the team by making the game easier for the players around him.
- Nigel De Jong: I haven't really talked much about De Jong in previous write-ups, and I always had a moment as I was finishing those articles wondering if I should comment more specifically on his play. In all of his matches he's been a steady presence. Announcers constantly harp on his reputation for being a rough player, but he seems very smart and very controlled. While he received a yellow card in this match, it wasn't egregious, and he did a great job dealing with the frustration of a chippy San Jose squad. Perhaps most importantly, with Gerrard out, De Jong was the metronome that cycled the ball around and controlled the pace of the match. He had 96 passes (the most of any player on either team), and while his completion rate was slightly lower than that of Husidic (87%), none of his missed passes were in dangerous positions. He's not flashy, but he seems to be incredibly effective, and may prove to be the best signing of this off-season.
- Lack of defensive discipline: While there was a lot for an LA fan to be happy about in this game, there are still some problems rearing their ugly heads. Perhaps the worst is a continued lack of defensive discipline. With a 2-0 lead late in the match, the LA defense got stretched and disconnected from the midfield, ultimately giving up a late goal to Chris Wondolowski. However, the play wasn't a one-off mistake. Van Damme consistently pushed in to the attacking third, leaving a gap in the back line. Bruce Arena needs to get in the Belgian's ear and tell him to stay at home in that type of a situation. Those types of mistakes are going to cost this team points (as one did last week).
- Dearth of play-making: Despite having the lion's share of possession, the Galaxy continue to lack creativity in the run of play. As a result, in this match, Robbie Keane dropped into the midfield and tried to become the play-maker. You could see his frustration with Lletget at times, and despite moments of fluid ball movement, everything stills seems to be just a little bit off. It was nice that Keane was able to get a late goal from the penalty spot, but the attacking players still don't seem to be on the same page yet. Thankfully it's still early days.
- The Gerrard conundrum: OK. Here's the elephant in the living room. When a journeyman midfielder like Husidic replaces you and makes the team better, you know that there are problems with your game. Gerrard has simply been bad this season. Scratch that. He's been bad since he put on an LA uniform. Yeah... he still has a classy touch and can make a beautiful cross-field pass now and then. He can connect the dots in the midfield at times as well, but what we saw today was that De Jong can be just as effective in that role while not being a defensive liability. If addition, having a dynamic player partnered with De Jong means that the other guys on the field don't have to work as hard. So if, and when, Gerrard comes back from injury, how is Arena going to handle it? That is, literally, the six million dollar question.
- More injuries: While Gerrard going down may be a blessing in disguise, there's no question that LA need to stop the bleeding, so to speak, and start getting players back from the injured reserve list. Yeah... Alan Gordon was back on the pitch tonight, which was great. However, Dan Kennedy, Giovani dos Santos, Jeff Larentowicz, Leonardo, and Jose Villarreal all continue to be missing. It would be particularly nice to get Larentowicz back to add some depth to the central midfield (I would actually be interested in seeing him paired with De Jong), but having any of them would be a plus.
For the moment, LA is back on top of the table in the Western Conference, and leads the league in goal differential. However, you can't help but feel there are still a lot of issues to be addressed with this squad. Luckily, they get a couple of weeks to nurse players back to health, and work on their problems before they fly to Vancouver to take on the Whitecaps. That will also be an opportunity to show whether or not they can duplicate their home form on the road.