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Positives and Negatives: LA Galaxy at Vancouver Whitecaps

The LA Galaxy took an injury-plagued line-up into Vancouver and came away with draw in yet another odd match.

Nigel de Jong had another solid match in LA's nil-nil draw with Vancouver
Nigel de Jong had another solid match in LA's nil-nil draw with Vancouver
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

While we are only a little more than 10% into the 2016 MLS season, it has already been a strange one. Two weeks ago, LA got a big home win aided by a red card to their opponent and some interesting refereeing. This Saturday's match in Vancouver's BC Place was somewhat similar, featuring a red card and two early injuries for the home team. Despite that advantage, LA failed to secure the win, settling for a nil-nil draw in a match they dominated on the stats sheet.

Positives:

  • High press on the road: How many times in the last couple of years have we seen this LA team play tentatively on the road? It was incredibly refreshing to see this young lineup come into BC Place, and start the match playing a high press. The game was actually pretty wide open in the early going, and, while they had some dangerous give-aways, LA forced a lot of turnovers in Vancouver's defensive third of the field. The high press actually led to the 28th minute red card on Matias Laba, with Mike Magee's high press forcing Matias into a studs-up tacking that landed on the ankle of Magee's planted foot. Maybe Bruce Arena thought that, with his younger players on the field, the team would have the fitness that the older players lacked, and could pull off a high press without fading. Whatever the reason, I'd like to see more of that.
  • Brian Rowe gets the shut-out: While LA's backup goalkeeper didn't have a ton to do on the night, he stepped up big when he was needed. He controlled his box well in the air, looked confident, and made one massive save that preserved the clean sheet. That save, in the third minute of first-half stoppage time, may well win the MLS save of the week. Vancouver's Andrew Jacobson fired a 35 yard shot through traffic that seemed to have eyes for the far post. Rowe made a stellar one handed save to push the ball wide. With the injury to LA's presumptive starter, Dan Kennedy, Rowe has been quietly making the case that he should take over that role.
  • Dominating the stats: While stats don't necessarily mean much if you're not scoring goals, they can be looked at as a promising sign. LA dominated this match in virtually all phases of the game. They had more than 61% of possession, a 15-5 edge in shots, and a 4-2 edge in shots on target. There's little question that the red card on Laba tilted the game in LA's favor, but it's important to note that even before that point, the Galaxy had the majority of possession as well as a 3-1 edge in shots (including one very good chance from Jelle Van Damme that went just wide). If LA can replicate that type of performance on the road moving forward, there's reason for optimism.
  • Nigel De Jong as captain: Every time I have written one of these articles this season, I get to the end of it and think "Dang. I should have said something more about de Jong." The former Netherlands international has likely been the best LA player so far this season, and I think this may have been his best match yet. He seems to be settling in to the team and the league. He's composed and modulates his aggression. Not only that, but with Robbie Keane's absence due to injury, he stepped up and put on the captain's arm band. He may well be the best acquisition of the off-season in all of MLS.
  • A point on the road: As I always say, the formula for winning the league is to win at home and draw on the road. A draw on the road not only gets you a point, it steals two points from your opponent. Vancouver is not an easy place to play, and LA's road woes for the past couple of years have been well documented. Make no mistake. This is a good result for the Galaxy.

Negatives:

  • The missed opportunity:  So yeah... a draw on the road is a good result. But that game could not have been more favorable to LA. Chances to grab three points on the road have been few and far between for this team, and the Galaxy had their opportunities in this one: Van Damme's far post shot, Gyasi Zardes' beautifully taken shot from inside the penalty spot that was deflected by a defender right into the Vancouver goalkeeper's body, and Alan Gordon's last minute header off of a corner that sailed just wide. With Keane out for the foreseeable future, someone needs to step up and start putting the ball in the net if LA are going to get some points.
  • Emmanual Boateng and Arial Lassiter: While it's great to see these young, energetic guys on the field, both of these players had pretty poor performances on the night. Lassiter, in his first MLS start, looked lost and tentative. He was not confident in his touch, and failed to make good runs off the ball. Hopefully he'll feel more comfortable the next time we see him. Boateng, unfortunately, continued to show us what he has in every performance. He's fast and can get in dangerous spots, but he's not a dangerous player on the ball. Despite constantly getting to the end line, he repeatedly failed to win corner kicks for LA. In addition, while he repeatedly beat his defender, he also repeatedly sent his crosses high and out of bounds. In order to be a successful player in MLS, Boateng needs to develop some composure on the ball.
  • Selfish attacking play: One of the big problems with LA's attack in this match was that every time the team got close to goal, all of the players seemed to want to be the goal-scorer, and none of them seemed to want to do the dirty work to create opportunities. I'm talking about those quiet off-the-ball runs that disrupt your opponents team shape. At one point in the second half, the announcers noted that LA had 4-5 guys lined up with the Whitecaps back line just waiting for someone to loft in a cross. There were no dynamic runs. There was no depth to the attack. At another point, later in the match, Robbie Rogers got the ball wide and motioned for Sebastian Lletget to make a slashing run towards the corner in front of him. Lletget, however ran back into the middle of the pitch, a space that was already filled by Gordon, Zardes, and Bradford Jamieson IV. As a result, the Vancouver defense could just pack it in, and wait for the cross (which they did). As a result of these types of plays, LA connected on only one out of sixteen crosses from the run of play. If this team want to score goals, these guys need to learn to be less selfish and start creating space for one-another.
So all-in-all, it was a good result that feels like a bad one. LA looked pretty good, considering that they are missing at least six starters to injury, and were playing a lot of young guys. However, at some point this team needs to gel, and starting going from simply looking good, to getting better results.