The LA Galaxy started the 2022 season in solid fashion, but the latest performance led to familiar refrain pinging around my brain: They need to play faster.
Against Orlando City on Saturday, which to be fair was a smash-and-grab 1-0 win for the Lions, the game state hurt LA, as Orlando took a pretty early lead and sat deep to defend most of the rest of the game.
It’s hard to play against a low block, a system that stymies even some of the best teams in the world, and it’s a contributing reason why the tactical evolution in the sport has shifted from a possession-based style that favored FC Barcelona with Pep Guardiola as manager, to a pressing style made most successful to date by Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool.
Time was in MLS, every team played the same, basically: 4-4-2, meat and potatoes. But Peter Vermes helped transform a moribund league tactically in Kansas City, introducing a 4-3-3 and a pressing system that meant they could shove games down your throat when it worked, and would get worked themselves at times when it didn’t.
Nowadays, MLS is full of tactical diversity, which is a blessing because we don’t see samey-samey games every weekend. And we know from Galaxy boss Greg Vanney that he’s comfortable being flexible in tactics and formations, which has been successful in Toronto.
Vanney has mostly gone for a possession-based system this season, which I think is borne out of the concern around LA’s defense. If the Galaxy hold the ball, that means the defense can’t get embarrassed, unless they kick the ball into their own net haha please do not put that into the universe.
Add to that, this team is not built with speedsters and so stretching the field is maybe not suited to the parts. I think Chicharito is fast enough for his role but no one has ever called him “speedy” — he’s smart in picking his spots, more than anything. Victor Vazquez is very slow, especially at this stage in his career, and Efrain Alvarez is not much faster. Douglas Costa was a burner in Europe and we’ll have to see if he has maintained that blistering pace as he’s in his 30s now, or if he’s lost a step or two. Kevin Cabral has some speed, but he’s entering “snakebitten” territory on his finishes so he has other things to worry about, since he keeps getting the ball and squandering chances.
Of course, the Galaxy do have speedy attackers on the roster: Samuel Grandsir has some speed, and Cameron Dunbar is quite fast, so there is potential to make adjustments with some pieces already on the squad.
Ok, so if LA is better suited to a possession style, why do I think they need to play faster? This one’s easy: As I mentioned, it’s hard to play against a low block. The more bodies clog up passing lanes and mark attackers in a compressed space, the harder it is for even great teams to find an escape valve. If you’re stuck in neutral, passing around the back and giving up possession every time you venture forward, something has to give.
Obviously conceding possession is not ideal for a team that doesn’t press a lot — and to be fair, the Galaxy have started incorporating some pressing elements in short periods of late — but one way to break down a low block is to play through it before it settles. Much like a fast break in basketball, beating your opponent downfield prevents them from getting settled in defense and can lead to effective scoring chances. The Galaxy have figured out how to offer support to each other in attack so that a single player doesn’t end up on an island, an unfortunate legacy of past coaching regimes, but they are way too slow. And that makes it easier for opponents to plug them up.
It’s worth noting again the margins so far this season for LA. They’ve won their games by a goal so far and lost their games by a goal. If LA had found an equalizer against Orlando, we would not necessarily be bemoaning how slow they are, but the situation is pretty much identical to the game against New York City FC (a win) and Charlotte FC (a win), and timely goals in those games saved the Galaxy’s blushes. Against the Seattle Sounders (a loss), LA had their best performance in attack this season, by far, but the defense collapsed and negated all the good work on the other end. In the other three games, the Galaxy may have found a moment of magic more often than not, but the luck ran out against Orlando.
The interesting news? After the international break, the Galaxy will face the Portland Timbers, a team that loves to...sit back deep and defend. They’re certainly not impenetrable, but if the Galaxy can’t speed up the thought process in the moment and just as important, can’t physically move faster, it could be a long 90 minutes. Let’s hope the Galaxy’s mantra in the coming weeks is they feel the need for speed on the pitch.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.