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Will LA Galaxy figure out their defensive woes in 2022?

It could be the difference between a good or bad year.

Los Angeles Football Club v Los Angeles Galaxy Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

As the LA Galaxy embark on their 27th season, when hope springs eternal and we all seek to see another successful campaign, comes a looming question.

Is the defense going to succeed this year?

While, at least in my mind, the Galaxy’s defensive record since the last MLS Cup-winning campaign feels like it’s been putrid, the actual numbers are not quite that simple. There have been peaks and valleys in terms of performance over the past seven years.

While it’s worth noting looking at pure goals conceded and rate of goals conceded does not easily equate to “success” — the team that wins MLS Cup is not often the team that gave up the fewest goals — it is a good thumbnail sketch to dig into defensive performance.

To see how much the Galaxy need to improve, let’s compare the numbers over the years.

LA Galaxy goals conceded record

Year Goals conceded Goals conceded per game
Year Goals conceded Goals conceded per game
2014 37 1.09
2015 46 1.35
2016 39 1.15
2017 67 1.97
2018 64 1.88
2019 59 1.74
2020 46 2.09
2021 54 1.59

Using the most recent MLS Cup triumph season as a benchmark, perhaps it’s no surprise the best record comes from that season, with just over a goal per game allowed. The next two years, the numbers remained pretty good, with a bump but not a massive one in 2015 and then a very good number the next year, certainly the best since the MLS Cup season.

But then, the wheels fall off. 2017 was a bad year for goals allowed, 67 goals, the worst pure number of this period. The following year was scarcely better, and some improvement in 2019 suggested the issues were perhaps being ironed out.

And then...2020. While the pure number of goals allowed was not too bad, LA only played 22 regular-season games that season, so their eye-watering goals conceded per game number was the worst of the era.

While last year ended in disappointing fashion, the rate of goals conceded was the best since 2016, which hopefully means a better dawn is approaching.

Still, concerns persist. With Daniel Steres being traded away in the offseason, it appears for now the starters will come from Sega Coulibaly, Nick DePuy and Derrick Williams in central defense, with Jalen Neal and Marcus Ferkranus perhaps competing for depth minutes. Head coach Greg Vanney has said in preseason the team isn’t against adding players in defense if necessary, but it sounded as though he was taking a wait-and-see approach, as in wait and see if the current group can perform before adding reinforcements. Clearly on some level, Vanney hopes Coulibaly and Williams will take a step up in their second season in MLS. Time will tell if that happens.

I think right back is probably the most settled spot in defense, with Julian Araujo coming off a monster 2021 and hopes he can continue to build. The homegrown player is now a Mexico international, too, and there’s expectations he could be in his final months as a Galaxy player before being sold abroad. If that happens, or if Araujo gets hurt or hits a slump, veteran newcomer Kelvin Leerdam has plenty of experience and two-way play that should help bridge an exit for Araujo if there is one.

I think left back is the big question this season, and I wouldn’t be shocked if it becomes a timeshare. Raheem Edwards played for Greg Vanney in Toronto FC when he was a pure winger, but in the years since the Canadian has played pretty much all over the field, and could split time with Jorge Villafaña, who started 2021 hot but broke down over the course of the campaign. Their games are different but Vanney likes flexibility and could prize that in the position.

Of course, it’s also possible that the defense could use various looks this season. 3-man central defensive looks have become increasingly popular in MLS, and Vanney has been flexible in Toronto. My hunch is he will continue to use a four-man backline with two center backs as the default setting in 2022, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see some tweaks.

And obviously defense is not just the province of defenders alone. Jonathan Bond started his first Galaxy season on fire and while he wasn’t bad down the stretch, he lost that extra edge that was so impressive to start his MLS career. Can he get that back? And the big question will be how the midfield operates — assuming Rayan Raveloson is a starter in ink, who’s playing with him? Can they shield the defense enough to be more successful defensively? The national pundits think the midfield/defense balance is a huge question mark coming into the season for the Galaxy.

If LA score 100 goals and concede 60, they’ll probably have a very good season, but most title contenders are much more stout in the back. The Galaxy should have been a playoff team last year, but no more excuses now, they need to get there as a minimum in 2022, and the defensive record most likely needs to be better. Can the squad step up and get better as a group this season? Ultimately, it could be the difference between a poor, decent or genuinely good season for the Galaxy.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.