This season, the LA Galaxy’s offense has been a tale of two sides — home and away, great and mediocre. When LA play at StubHub, they gel. They’re more comfortable in making a concerted and long-term attack, and they regularly achieve the kind of scorelines that should, based on sheer salary numbers, be a given — namely, high ones. Long gone are the early days of the season, the pre-Gerrard days, marked by instability and uncertainty. When the Galaxy’s offense plays at home, they’re a multi-headed and fearsome beast.
“I think once we start clicking a bit more, get more used to playing with a similar lineup, I think we’ll get better and better.”
—Baggio Husidic, June 21, 2015
They clicked. And when the star-studded cast of goal-scorers (Robbie Keane, Sebastian Lletget, Gyasi Zardes, Alan Gordon, Juninho, Giovani Dos Santos) click, like they did in August, there’s nothing that can stop them. But when confronted with clever teams who have figured out how to pinpoint and prey upon LA’s weaknesses, we have a month like September — forever known as the goal-drought.
And it’s that inconsistency that brings us to October, nearing the end of the season, struggling to re-find form before the playoffs. What would it take to tune this offense, and make a run at the Cup? Let’s take a look.
1) LA has options. Mid-season signing sensation Giovani Dos Santos, now out with a right abductor injury, and homegrown USMNT regular Gyasi Zardes give the Galaxy formation options when it comes to servicing the ball to Robbie Keane who this season has scored 17 goals, 14 of which were in the past 12 matches he played. The pairing of Dos Santos and Robbie Keane is magical, when it happens, but the next time will likely be during the playoffs if Arena chooses to play it safe giving Dos Santos enough time to heal. Gio’s selflessness on the pitch has made waves and will continue to prove to make a huge impact on the team’s results in the coming post-season play.
2) The Goal King. Robbie Keane has stepped up this year in ways we all saw last season, so there’s no need to delve into it, but he never ceases to amaze. During his first 100+ regular season games in Major League Soccer, Keane has helped the Galaxy to three MLS Cup titles, and upheld his title as the most successful foreign Designated Player in MLS history. As a leader he’s gone above and beyond, come back from injury, from international duty and provides his teammates with a role model that gives lip service to no one but the truth.
3) LA’s under appreciated and consistent attacking midfielder, Sebastian Lletget (personally my favorite signing of this year) continues to bring his craftiness and creative aggressiveness to the forefront, giving LA’s opponents a handful of trouble, and notching 7 goals and 2 assists so far in 18 matches. Social media isn’t his only forte… and I actually think he puts his best foot forward on the pitch rather than off.
4) As for Zardes, he’s been stuck on finishing but it’s hard to find fault with his efforts in the final third. His experiences with the U.S. Men’s National Team are only helping build upon his eagerness to learn. His ability to see the play in front of his is getting better and he’s harnessing his natural assertiveness more and more with each day.
5) The understated alternates. I feel uncomfortable calling Alan Gordon understated. He’s a rambunctious savior in highly critical times. He also led the team earlier in this season when internataional duty and injuries claimed many of the starting lineup. Though he’s better utilized as a sub, he also leads the way with goals for LA in the CONCACAF Champions League tournament. So far, the Galaxy have not lost a game in their group with two wins and a tie, and Gordon has accumulated four goals in those three games. He will play a huge role in the post-season. ‘Nuff said. Add to that Jose Villareal and Baggio Husidic who add to the depth and versatility of LA’s attacking options.
6) The Juninho and Gerrard Midfield Show. Definitely last to mention, but not least important by a long-shot. As a matter of fact, their interplay is quite obviously the engine that runs the entire team performance time and time again.
Over six seasons and through three MLS Cup titles with the Galaxy, Juninho has played alongside some stars. He’s adjusted and worked well with each: Beckham, Sarvas and now Gerrard. Many credit Juninho’s positioning as being the secret to LA’s latest wins and earlier losses. Having Juninho play deeper, rather than running from end to end, means he’s more able to function well (as opposed to spreading his efforts too thin), and gives his partner in crime, Steven Gerrard, the freedom he needs and thrives on (with his older legs) to push the ball up. As their chemistry and ability to feed off each other grows, so will the goal-scoring chances for the attack. It’s not quite perfect and it’s not quite consistent either, but it’s getting there.
Mourinho, credited with coining the phrase ‘parking the bus,’ and occasionally deriding the very technique (because he’s a man who just loves controversy), is right that balancing the games within a game are crucial to a team’s overall success.
“Parking the bus” describes how a team sits behind the ball in an effort to block the goal, and often teams with a lead will change tactics late in the game and park the bus to ensure a win. They move their line of defensive pressure back toward the goal, committing more players to defense. The other team thus achieves more ball possession but the idea is they’ll have a lower chance of actually scoring the equalizer.
That’s in an ideal world, and that’s assuming your attackers have the know-how and the fitness to properly defend while still making counters whenever possible. In the latest installment of the Corner of the Galaxy podcast, Cory and Josh go back and forth on this point a few times regarding LA’s ability to stay in attack mode or sit back after scoring an early goal before realizing the reality is it’s an impossible ask of the current squad. Yes, watching them sit back after Robbie Keane’s steal of a goal in Seattle was extremely frustrating for supporters. But it’s also the natural tendency when away teams take the lead early on. You can’t fight nature.
Maintaining a balance between setting up an early attack, scoring first and parking the bus while keeping up pressure, is no easy feat. It’s rare to find an MLS team that manages to sustain pressure throughout the full 90+ minutes, let alone the critical first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes. Behold the power of controlling the final minutes of a match: In the last 4 seasons under Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United scored 66 goals after the 79th minute. Don’t ever underestimate stoppage time. Don’t ever allow the pressing home team who has fallen behind to get the last minute goal. But truth is, it happens.
This year, LA has been through the full gamit, back and forth so much I don’t feel comfortable declaring there’s any real consistency in their masterplan. When they score early, they tend to keep that lead, but that’s easier to accomplish at home where they also tend to be more aggresive. When they travel, the mantra is get a point, at the least, and you’ve done your job. It’s a safe strategy and they’re currently at the top of the Western Conference (though likely not for long) and are in MLS playoffs to try to surge ahead for a sixth Cup, so I can’t complain. Much.
LA were the first to reach 50. But sitting back could prove costly in the long-run in a season where the New York Red Bulls have run away with the offense and the Supporters Shield title and where the top of the Western Conference table is quite tight, it’s imperative LA find a confident offensive identity to stay the menacing Cup defenders they have the potential to be.
Watch Allen Gordon’s take — “We got Keane. We got Giovani. We got Sebastian. We got Zardes. I’m not worried about it.”
As for Bruce Arena, he’s stoic about keeping the conversation solely on the next game they play, not admitting to thinking about the #RaceForSeis just yet. “Results in the playoffs are important [but] we’re focusing on trying to win the next two games. I’m not thinking ahead to the playoffs.” He continues, “I want the Cup. This is the LA Galaxy. We try to win MLS Cups. All we do is focus on the next game. We don’t talk about MLS Cup or playoffs at this point.”