With Sunday's victory over the New England Revolution, the LA Galaxy have now gone seven matches without a loss. They currently lead the league in both goals scored (22) and goal differential (+12) by a decent margin. They went into halftime of this match with a 3-0 lead, but allowed the Revs to cut the margin to 3-2 before picking up an insurance goal in stoppage time.
Clearly there's a lot to talk about after this match.
Four more goals: Once again, the Galaxy showed that they have no problem putting the ball in the net (especially at home). All five of the team's wins in 2016 have come by margins of more than one goal, The team has also scored three or more goals in all of those wins. There's no question that this is an exciting team to watch. The three goals in the first half were all beautiful, with Gyasi Zardes setting up two easy finishes for Robbie Keane that were sandwiched around a stunning volley by Giovani dos Santos. LA's third designated player, Steven Gerrard, finished off the scoring with a beautiful piece of counter-attacking that concluded with a stunning bit of skill from the Liverpool legend allowing him to beat two defenders in the box, and slot the ball home.
Zardes up top: One of the most promising aspects of LA's early-season form has been the number of players that have been in the mix. With Gerrard coming back from injury and Nigel De Jong picking up a knock in the last week, Bruce Arena felt that the best way to get his most talented players on the field was to put Zardes up top, slot Dos Santos and Keane in behind him as withdrawn forwards, and play Jeff Larentowicz as a true number six. While the formation was pretty fluid for the front three, there's little question that Zardes excelled playing the role of the target forward. In addition to his two first-half assists, Gyasi had three key passes, and his dynamic runs constantly opened up space for his attacking partners. His speed and strength allowed him to hold up the ball and bring other players into the attack. He may well have been the man-of-the-match, if it weren't for the performance of his captain.
Keane off the ball: While Zardes played exceedingly well up top, Keane should get some credit for helping him out with his movement off the ball. The ageless Irishman looked lively and fit in his return from knee surgery. He made darting runs all over the attacking third, but more than that, he made a huge contribution to the team's possession play. While the team came out a little slow (more on that later) they had a period of dominance when they seemed to be in complete control of the game. A lot of this was due to Keane making himself available in the midfield for quick combination play to work the ball out of pressure. As soon as Keane was subbed out (after 60 minutes), the team seemed to lose control of the match. Oh yeah... and then there was his movement in the box getting him in position to score to two goals.
Jeff Larentowicz: I mentioned above that part of Arena's strategy for this match was to play Larentowicz as a defensive destroyer. Boy did it pay off. The big midfielder had a great game, going the ful 90 minutes, disrupting passing lanes, tracking back, making himself available for possession, and playing smart, safe passes out of the back that were often key in connecting the defense with the offense. I other words, he did pretty much everything that was asked of him. When Larentowicz was brought in during the off-season there was a lot of moaning from long-time Galaxy fans. However, it looks like, once again, Arena knew what he was doing picking up a veteran player off the waver wire to add depth to the team.
Slow start: Honestly, I was tempted to begin my "positives" section with "didn't concede an early goal." This team has been incredibly slow to get things going in their matches. They consistently give up a goal and are then forced to fight and claw their way back into the match. While they managed to not concede that first goal in this match, they didn't play well in the early going, allowing New England to consistently penetrate the attacking third. LA scored on their first real opportunity, and even after that, the Revs seemed to have a bit of an upper-hand, putting a series of shots on goal. This team has got to figure out how to come out of the gate better. Eventually this kind of lethargic start will cost them points.
Steven Gerrard: I praised Gerrard for his late goal above, but cannot be happy with his performance in the match. Bringing him on for Keane could not have been more of a contrast. Yeah... they are different players, but they were, ostensibly, playing the same role. As soon as Gerrard came on the pitch, the team looked less connected. His lack of movement created gaps. While Keane would help his wide players maintain possession, Gerrard tended to hang in the middle of the pitch and not show for the ball, which led to more turnovers caused by the New England press. When he did get the ball, he looked like a pub-league player trying out his new tricks. He constantly looked for the home-run pass, even if it was high-risk, and created dangerous turnovers. He constantly tried to push forward despite the fact that the team was three goals up and needed to slow down the game. There is no denying the man's quality, but for some reason, the team seems to almost always look worse when he's on the field.
Distribution out of the back: This has been a problem for some time for Brian Rowe. His long passes out of the back virtually never find their target, and all-too-often fall to an opposing player in perfect position to launch an attack. To make matters worse, Jelle Van Damme had a lousy distribution game as well, with five dangerous give-aways in LA's half of the field, and a series of poor clearances that simply gave the Revolution the ball. Contrast that with Daniel Steres, who was tidy on the ball, completing all but three of his passes. Robbie Rogers and A.J. DeLaGarza also had a couple of bad give-aways a piece (in otherwise solid performances). All told, there were simply too many mental errors working the ball out of the back, which allowed New England to keep the pressure on for the final thirty minutes of the match.
The let-down: Speaking of which, the final thirty minutes may have been the worst stretch of play we have seen from this team all season. Gerrard's lack of mobility and the poor decision-making working the ball out of the back were two parts of that. However, there was simply a lack of energy and commitment that seemed to be the root the entire underwhelming performance. Players seemed to turn off. They failed to win the ball. It was almost like, in an attempt to slow the game down and take the air out of their opponents, they fell asleep themselves. I have no doubt that Arena is going to give them an ear-full about that, force them to watch the film, and try to get them to shake off that complacency before the next match.
So over-all it was another good result in a strong start to the season. Players in the attack are having fun and working both with and for one-another. The defense looks a little shaky, but serviceable. Wednesday's match in Philadelphia against The Union should be a tough test for this team, as the last two victories have come against the two teams with the worst points-per-game in MLS. Hopefully the Galaxy will be up to the task.
CORRECTION: It was originally incorrectly stated that Jelle Van Damme received a yellow card in this match and would miss the following match as a result of yellow card accumulation. Van Damme did not receive a card, and is therefore eligible to play on Wednesday against The Union.