All right boys and girls, I know there are sore feelings aplenty about last Sunday’s gut-wrenching tie with the Timbers, but we should all take solace in the fact that the Galaxy put together one of their most complete attacking performances of the year. The LA Galaxy not only figured out how to adjust the attack to the addition of Rob Friend, but also achieved the nearly impossible task of maintaining near complete control of a game in a stadium where few teams have been able to find much success at all. The Galaxy maintained 56% of the possession and bossed the midfield to such a degree that a mere 26% of the game was spent in the Galaxy third. This was not possession without a purpose either. The Galaxy looked to create goal scoring opportunities all game and had 32 crosses, 9 through balls, and 21 shots. The final score line aside, the Galaxy managed to march into the toughest environment in MLS and completely dominate the game. And here is how they did it.

If this week’s batch of Opta stats shows us anything, it’s just how important Robbie Keane’s movement is to the effectiveness of the Galaxy attack. Last week I highlighted Robbie Keane’s lack of movement as one of the problems with the Galaxy attack against Colorado. To refresh your memory, here is his heat map from that game.

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In the Colorado game, Robbie seemed tethered to the largely static position of Rob Friend, playing in the space just underneath him.

In the Portland game, however, Robbie Keane cut the cord between him and Rob Friend and once again roamed free around the pitch. This can clearly be seen in his heat map.

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When Robbie Keane makes those runs left or right or back into the mid, space opens up; passing lanes open up. Robbie Keane is not only our primary goal scorer, but his movement is often the primary catalyst for most Galaxy attacks. Landon Donovan had one of his best games of the year and was able to do so because Keane created the space for him to be so effective. If the Galaxy is to continue finding success, Robbie Keane must continue to have a license to move freely about the field.

The Galaxy maintained 56% of the possession and bossed the midfield to such a degree that a mere 26% of the game was spent in the Galaxy third.

Another huge difference between the Colorado game and the Portland game was the positioning of Baggio Husidic. While I did not mention this in the last article, one of the consequences of Stefan Ishizaki’s inability to move to the right hand side against Colorado was that Baggio was pushed much farther left than usual and was unable to move inside as often. In the Portland game, however, Baggio once again found himself playing more centrally, helping the Galaxy once again dominate the midfield. A comparison of the heat maps from the two games is shown below.

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The key to success in the diamond is keeping things compact, maximizing short passing triangles in midfield and opening space for the outside backs to run into. Like it or not, the Galaxy as a team are strongest when playing up the gut. As nice as it sounds to have good flank play from the midfield, we simply do not have the personnel to succeed by having our outside mids drift too far wide. Many people have noted that Baggio had a bad game against Colorado, and this is largely why. Consider his distribution charts from the two games.

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On the left is the Colorado game, and as you will see, Baggio’s participation within the central diamond was minimal. On the right is the Portland game, where the difference is clear as day. Baggio was far more active within the central diamond, and our offense looked far better for it. And for all those people who have been calling for Gyasi Zardes to get more playing time, this is precisely why he shouldn’t. Gyasi is a player who will detach himself from the central diamond in order to take up wider positions to stretch defenses. This severely limits chance creation from the midfield, in exchange for very little, as Gyasi has proven to be a turnover machine and a bad crosser.

The Galaxy looked to create goal scoring opportunities all game and had 32 crosses, 9 through balls, and 21 shots.

Unfortunately, with Landon Donovan away at the World Cup, Bruce’s options are limited, and we will see plenty of Gyasi on the flank in the coming games. Hopefully the team will adjust accordingly, and Gyasi will add some much needed elements to his game. For us to suceed with Gyasi within the diamond, Gyasi will need to become a more cerebral player, in order to excel within this Galaxy attack that is so dependant on combination play. Gyasi Zardes will have to learn pick his spots to make that explosive run at a defender, putting them on their heels, vs when to simply pull it back and make the simple pass . He will need to learn to anticiapte the runs of Ishizaki, Keane and Baggio, and synchronize his movements accordingly. It’s a lot to ask from a recently converted forward, but unfortunately until Sarvas comes back at least, it’s the Galaxy’s only option.

Unfortunately, with Landon Donovan away at the World Cup, Bruce’s options are limited.

For all our sakes, let’s hope Gyasi is able to get things done and bring some much needed goals to a Galaxy midfield which is struggling to score. If not Gyasi, then someone will have to because it’s hard to imagine the Galaxy getting back to winning ways if someone other than Robbie Keane doesn’t start finding the back of the net.

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