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LA Galaxy mailbag: Aiming for an ideal midfield and an ideal style of play

On Jonathan dos Santos and the team’s style of play.

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Mailbag time! The inbox was pretty light this time, but the question we got about the LA Galaxy was extremely good, I didn’t want to let it go by without trying to answer it because I’ve had some deep thoughts.

Many thanks to Matt for this, here we go!

We’re waiting to see if Jonathan dos Santos will be available for the home opener on Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps — Jona has been dealing with a groin/middle body injury, and those things sometimes linger. We know, too, that JdS has a track record of muscle injuries, so caution may be a good policy here.

But regardless of whether he’s back this week or later, dos Santos is a vital player, arguably the most vital. When he’s in and in form, he does elevate his team, no question, and when he’s out the Galaxy suffer.

So when he’s back, Guillermo Barros Schelotto will likely go for Sacha Kljestan or Joe Corona, then dos Santos slotting in for Perry Kitchen, and Sebastian Lletget keeping his spot. It looks like there’s four good options for three spots, but time will tell if there will be a rotation there or if one of Kljestan or Corona takes over the starting spot.

But here’s where it gets interesting: Obviously dos Santos has an impact on the midfield, a positive one, but his skillset is tricky, as a deep-lying playmaker. He’s not fully a defensive midfielder, and he’s not a No. 10 playmaker, either. Schelotto has midfielders around him who have two-way games themselves, and so dos Santos is not being asked to be a primary attacker or defender, because that’s not his game.

Now, the concern for the Galaxy last year was that they were so dependent on the force field that was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, that they played a style that did not suit most of their squad, opting for a cross-heavy approach that is frankly out of vogue in the game these days, but one that had a certain logic because Zlatan was the rare player who could take a ball out of the air with defenders on him and score, somehow. Like this:

But while Zlatan got his, the team around him looked like it was trying, hard, and struggling to look decent. We saw more of the same on Saturday in the season opener against Houston, and Matt Doyle highlighted that Schelotto wants to continue a cross-heavy approach, apparently, because now he has Chicharito:

“I think we might need to find [Chicharito] more times. We gave like six or seven really good crosses, but none of them found Chicharito,” Scehlotto said. ”I am happy with the team and how we tried to reach Chicharito and how Chicharito moved in the front.”

Chicharito has that “fox in the box” reputation, and he’ll undoubtedly score a few goals if the Galaxy fire 300 cross his way over the course of the season. But does that actually make sense?

Taylor Twellman doesn’t think so:

If the strategy is to find a player wide in the final third and send in crosses to the box, the result is that opponents can set up for that pretty easily — pack defenders in their own box and it becomes an execution drill, with crosses notoriously low-percentage chances, the success rate favors a solid defense. That’s not to say that crosses can’t work, it just isn’t usually a consistent model for success.

What are the other options? So far, including on Saturday, it was to ask Cristian Pavon to play hero ball, which he did in getting the Galaxy’s goal. Pavon can burn an opponent on the counter and he’ll likely have some success at it, but again, if the aim is “Get the ball to Cristian and let him run,” opponents will work to counter him specifically in transition because he’s the main play there.

And that’s where dos Santos comes in. This came nearly a year ago, with a handful of players who are no longer on the roster, but dos Santos’ movement and passing helped tremendously in one of the best team plays of the season last year, in the home win over Minnesota United.

I don’t subscribe to the view that some playing styles are inherently better than others. If you nail a cross-and-score technique, that can be a lot of fun. I think sitting deep and countering — if you can counter properly — is not somehow worse than a possession style.

But I think given the talent that is being collected, we would all like to see more goals like that one against Minnesota mixed in compared to what’s been there so far in Schelotto’s tenure. A team in supreme command against an opponent, wearing them down with a sustained spell of possession capped off by a goal — that seems to be a worthy aim to regularly incorporate into the mix, if not turn to full-time as a playing style.

But there has to be a little concern that the cross-heavy style and Pavon playing hero ball are the two defaults for the Galaxy. Obviously we’re just over a season into the Schelotto era, and he deserves more time to show how the playing style will evolve in year two. Let’s also hope he can forge a style that makes the best use of dos Santos’ talents, and that dos Santos can elevate the group as a whole in 2020, too, when he’s back healthy.

Thanks again to Matt for the question here. What do you think? Do you agree with my musings or think I’m a little off? Let’s chat in the comments below!