Today was an experiment — and for thirty long minutes, it looked like a failed one. Bruce Arena rejiggered the lineup in a big way for this second match-up with Real Salt Lake. Left behind on the bench were Leonardo, Sarvas, Zardes and Samuel. Stepping in to round out a diamond-shaped formation were Dunivant, Husidic, Ishizaki and Friend. So how’s that look?
Intriguing, right? Well, no: for thirty minutes the new formation made for nothing more than dull soccer. LA was slow on the counter and uncertain with the ball — but most damningly, the Galaxy still looked lost on defense.
When Real Salt Lake’s lead scorer Alvaro Saborio was left unmarked and apparently unnoticed during a free kick, the goal he got out of it felt like exactly what the LA Galaxy deserved.
Leave it to Robbie Keane to light a fire under a faltering new lineup. In the 34th minute the team captain snatched up the leftovers of a smart tackle by Juninho, ran the ball up the field, juked a defender and hit a right-footed shot hard enough that the few fingers Nick Rimando got on it couldn’t stop a goal.
The ten minutes that followed were the best LA would play. Suddenly awake and inspired, the Galaxy got back to what they do best: striking fast on the counter, turning transitions into attacks, and setting the pace of the game at a lightning-quick clip.
The second half lost that energy, with a steady stream of fouls ruining any chance of finding a rhythm to the game. Both Riley and DeLaGarza went off injured, replaced by Dan Gargan and Leonardo. It was Gargan’s first regular season minutes for LA — he looked eager to impress and played a rough brand of defense. Leonardo was undoubtedly happy with just avoiding a repeat of the mistakes he made in Tijuana.
And the subs kept coming. Sarvas relieved Ishizaki in the 70th minute. Today’s the most time Ishizaki’s spent on the pitch, and he was solid if rather unimpactful. Husidic played a full 90 but was worn down by the end — or at least that’s the most charitable excuse I can think of for a couple sloppy turnovers.
LA created only a couple more chances, mostly in the interplay between Keane and Friend — but at full-time, the Western Conference rivals were locked at 1-1.
The Galaxy have a defensive problem — that much is clear. Even the return of LA veteran Todd Dunivant couldn’t plug the holes in a back line that’s too often caught flat-footed, forced to chase the ball. It was bad today, and it will only get worse if either A.J. DeLaGarza or James Riley’s injuries prove serious.
As for the new lineup: the verdict is out. It certainly didn’t provide the flurry of chances LA had in their first meeting with Salt Lake. But learning a new formation takes time, and I’d say it’s too soon to write this one off.
We’ll see if Bruce Arena agrees — The Galaxy’s next game is April 6th, at StubHub Center, against local rivals Chivas USA.