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Positives and Negatives: San Jose Earthquakes at LA Galaxy

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The LA Galaxy wrapped up rivalry week in MLS with an uninspired 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes. LA had some good moments, but were uneven at best.

Gyasi Zardes put in a good shift for LA against their rivals.
Gyasi Zardes put in a good shift for LA against their rivals.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

I'll be honest with you. I'm having trouble figuring out what to say about this match. I watched the whole thing, and then went back and watched the extended highlights. I saw a lot of good attacking play, but not much in terms of final results. I saw a lot of defensive breakdowns, but nothing except the conceded goal was fatal. Maybe I've come to expect more from this Galaxy team than they displayed in this match. Whatever the reason, I'm skewing this post to the negative.

Nevertheless, I'll start with the positive.

Positives:

  • Moments of brilliance: Throughout this season, the Galaxy have lived and died on the individual talents of their deep squad, as well as their highly compensated designated players. In this match, we saw flashes of that individual brilliance. Gyasi Zardes was very good setting up his teammates, producing four key passes from the run of play. Perhaps the prettiest play of the match was his knock-down of a long ball to Giovani dos Santos that the little Mexican volleyed masterfully only to have it rebound off the crossbar. Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard both had moments as well, with Stevie G getting a couple of run-of-play key passes, including a beautiful cross in the first half that Keane headed into the ground, and bounced over the goal. Robbie had a couple other chances that he could not quite capitalize on, and even if the final result was not quite there, the quality was apparent.
  • Sebastian Lletget: The fact that there were so many moments of individual brilliance on display in this match made it a little ironic that the goal that gave LA the lead came off a stretch of strong team play by "da boy." Lletget came on as a sub in the 65th minute and immediately made LA's attack more dangerous with his aggressive play and his strength on the ball. His movement off the ball also opened things up for his teammates and provided more passing options in the build-up. He hit a number of dangerous passes into the box that just failed to connect. In the end, it was one of those passes that bounced off the leg of Marvell Wynne and into the San Jose goal. It was the kind of performance that will ensure that Lletget gets lots more minutes as the team moves deeper into the season.
  • Working the ball out of the back: Brian Rowe was back in goal for LA, after getting a rest in Philadelphia. One of the problems with both of our goalkeepers is their distribution out of the back. it seems that LA lose a huge percentage of goal kicks when the 'keeper pumps the ball forward. It looks like Arena has noticed this, and directed Rowe to find a short out-let whenever he can. As a result, Rowe completed about 67% of his passes (as compared to only 43% in his previous start). It was great to see the team work the ball out of the back rather than just give it away haphazardly.

Negatives:

  • Team shape: I spent much of this match trying to figure out what LA was doing with their player positioning. The team tweeted out a 4-3-3 lineup, while Cobi Jones insisted that they were playing a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. Regardless of the lineup (we already know Bruce Arena has disdain for the line-up card), we saw a team with players all over the place. On many occasions Nigel de Jong would show up on the back line. Jelle Van Damme would push forward into the attack. The back four and the midfield would collapse in a disorganized mass of players. It was unclear to me, at times, who had responsibility for different San Jose attackers. On the goal that LA conceded (which was admittedly following a set play) Zardes and de Jong were in the box guarding the goal scorer, and both seemed to leave him without ensuring they were handing him off to another defender. The up side of all this was that the team was more fluid (positionally) pushing forward. However, it seems that Arena needs to work on this with his guys. If they are going to play total football, they need to make sure that they aren't leaving defensive gaps.
  • Conceding chances: As a follow-up to that first negative point, let's be clear that LA need to stop conceding easy chances to their opponents. Had Chris Wondolowski been a little sharper, the Galaxy could easily have conceded three first-half goals. One of those chances was a technical error by Daniel Steres (who was pretty solid otherwise), but a number of them were lack of marking off the ball or a lack of pressure in the midfield, both of which seem to be a manifestations of a lack of discipline. The team needs to eliminate these errors.
  • Low energy: We've heard this one before. While LA didn't give up an early goal this time, they definitely came out with a low level of energy, being out-shot 4-9 in the first half of the match. LA simply looked lifeless through much of the first forty-five minutes, being beaten to second balls, and out-hussled all over the field. The second half, LA controlled the run of play and generated a ton of chances. They out-shot the 'Quakes 5-3, and generated a lot of dangerous looks that did not result in shots. The question is, "Why can't they start the match playing with that kind of energy?"
  • Movement off the ball: Part of the problem in the first half was a lack of movement off the ball. On many occasions, an LA player would get the ball with a little bit of space in front of him, and stand there waiting for a teammate to make a run. Play would grind to a halt, and the player would either cycle the ball back to the defense, or launch a low-percentage pass, conceding possession to San Jose. With the type of attacking players that LA have on the field, and the formational freedom that Arena affords them, why aren't these guys moving and creating space? Is it that Keane, Mike Magee, and Gerrard feel like they need to conserve energy? Is it that Dos Santos just isn't that type of player? Zardes seems to be the only guy out there that is consistently making incisive runs, and that's just not good enough.

In the end, a draw at home against your rival is not the worst result, but the quality of play has to be better from this squad. They had a chance to secure three points and jump up the table. Instead, they continue to hover in the middle of a competitive Western Conference, and fall further behind a hot Colorado Rapids team.