What a difference a week makes. Last Saturday, the story was that LA had not won in seven matches. Today they are on a four game undefeated streak, having won their last two.
The truth, of course, is that with the number of draws that this team seems to rack up, it's easy to argue both for their strengths, and their weaknesses. They are currently ranked third in the Western Conference, and fourth for the Supporters Shield, so it's hard not to be optimistic when you see the depth of the squad and the fact that they seem to be coming together as a team on the defensive side of the ball.
That said, this match could have gone either way, so lets take a little closer look at it.
One more shut-out: While LA started the season with a strong record, they only managed one shut-out in their first twelve matches. However, it looks like Bruce Arena has got his guys playing better defense, as they have now recorded four shut-outs in their last six. Part of this has been a shift in line-up. In order to mitigate Steven Gerrard's lack of mobility, Arena is playing him in front of two defensively-minded midfielders, and letting him be more of a withdrawn forward. However, It's fair to say that the entire team has also stepped up its commitment to defense, with players not content to just do their job, but making every effort to win personal battles and cover for their teammates.
It starts with the midfield, where Jeff Larentowicz and Baggio Husidic patrolled the center of the park, and harassed Seattle into a number of dangerous give-aways throughout the match, and snatching up a combined twelve recoveries.
On the back line, we saw A.J. DeLaGarza playing as well as ever, with nine clearances, four tackles, three recoveries, three interceptions, and two fouls won. He also had the defensive play of the match, when he cleared Jordan Morris' shot off the line, preserving the shut-out. Jelle Van Damme and Daniel Steres also continued their strong partnership as center backs, with a combined eighteen clearances and seven interceptions. At times, Van Damme looked like a mad-man in the back, winning every header with such ferocity that it looked like his neck would snap.
Finally, Brian Rowe should get credit for his continued strong play. He made the saves that counted, and looked particularly strong controlling his area, snagging a number of crosses in traffic, and not giving up any easy rebounds.
Robbie Keane still has it: In the opening minute, Van Damme put Keane in on goal, and the 36-year-old striker was just half a step too slow to chip the ball over a charging Stefan Frei. However, he didn't miss ten minutes later when Dave Romney played a beautiful one-time ball to Gyasi Zardes, who sent in a hard cross that Keane slammed home off of the underside of the crossbar. The Irish international also had a strong shout for a penalty kick in the second half, when he got behind the Seattle defense, and was run over from behind by a defender with no attempt to play the ball. If his first two games returning from the European Championships are any indication, he could have a very strong second half of the season.
Meaningful possession: While the Galaxy were out-possessed 62% to 38%, much of that was related to the game state: playing with a lead for seventy-five minutes. The team clearly planned to cede possession to Seattle, and dare them to try to break down the defensive shell. Rowe and his defensive back line rarely tried to play the ball out of the back, even when it looked like they had the opportunity. They simply kicked it into the Seattle half and reset the defensive shape. However, when the team did get possession in the midfield, they did a good job of making it count. In the last ten minutes of the match, in particular, we saw a number of long passing sequences, when the team simply gave themselves a chance to rest by keeping the ball away from Seattle. Zardes, in particular, was very smart in picking his spots; choosing when to attack and when to cycle the ball back around.
Arena uses his substitutes: One recurring criticism of Arena has been that he doesn't make use of his bench very well. In this match it was nice to see him bringing off his DPs and getting on some fresh legs: Sebastian Lletget on for Giovani Dos Santos, who, while racking up a couple of key passes, didn't generate any real chances for himself; Mike Magee on for Gerrard; and Alan Gordon for Keane. Lletget and Magee, in particular made a big impact on the match, helping LA regain some possession after a lopsided fifteen-minute stretch.
Arena leaves it too late: On the flip side, it would be nice to see Arena pull the trigger on these subs a little sooner. The substitutions came in the 76th, 85th, and 92nd minutes, respectively. It would have been great to see the first two happen a little sooner; say, the 65th and 70th minutes. It's possible that this would have reduced the number of chances that Seattle created in this period where they were peppering the LA box with crosses.
Giving up chances: Every team will give up some chances in MLS. That's what parity is all about. However, LA may have been a little lucky not to concede a goal in this one. AJ's clearance off the line was just one example. Seattle players had a number of open headers in the box, and Clint Dempsey almost managed to poke home a ball that, eventually, went off the goalpost in the the dying moments of the match. Ideally you'd like to see less of that.
Still looking a little toothless: In addition to giving up too many chances, LA failed to create as many they could have. Once again, part of that is due to game state. Late in the match, Zardes had a number of chances to take the ball to goal, and try to feed a teammate in the box. He chose, however, to make the safe pass and maintain possession. However, with the level of players that LA have, you would think that they could generate more than seven shot on goal in a match... especially when their opponent is opening up and pushing for an equalizer.
In the end it's another three points in the bag, and a win on the road in Seattle. As an LA fan, you can't be too unhappy about that.