Why isn’t AJ DeLaGarza starting? Do the number prove Robbie Rogers the better starter?

The LA Galaxy might be looking for answers from their once-solid defense after giving up eight goals in the last three games.

For a team that is tied for third in Major League Soccer in goals allowed and is first in MLS with a plus-15 goal differential, the recent outburst of opponents’ scoring finally might be raising a question team supporters have been asking for more than a few games:

Why isn’t AJ DeLaGarza starting?

DeLaGarza, long regarded as one of the league’s best and smartest defenders, has played in only 21 of the Galaxy’s 31 games this season. And most of those games occurred in groups while Robbie Rogers wasn’t available. Head coach Bruce Arena repeatedly has chosen to go with Rogers instead of DeLaGarza, and many observers are asking why.

On the face of it, the argument may make sense. Rogers, undoubtedly more gifted on offense since he is a converted midfielder, also can play right back at the professional level. And the Galaxy routinely have counted on the overlapping runs of their outside backs to provide width and overload the attacking zone.

Rogers will get into more advanced positions and be active going forward, a trait which was evident in the assist he provided to Landon Donovan on Sept. 18 in Kansas City, where the Galaxy rallied for a 2-2 tie.

But are the Galaxy sacrificing too much on defense to push the narrative that Rogers’ offense makes up for any defensive issues he may have?

Below, you will find a chart that indicates the defensive starting lineups and positioning of three key players: DeLaGarza, Rogers, and Daniel Steres. For this exercise, we’re going to assume we know the positioning of Jelle Van Damme (center back) and Ashley Cole (left back) on the back line, although there have been several games in which one of those players wasn’t available, and all three of our subjects started.

GAMEA. DELAGARZAR. ROGERSD. STERESPOINTSGFGAGD
DC UNITEDCENTERRIGHTCENTER3413
@ COLORADORIGHTLEFTCENTER001-1
SAN JOSE-RIGHTCENTER3312
@ VANCOUVER-RIGHTCENTER1000
PORTLAND-RIGHTCENTER1110
@ HOUSTONRIGHT-CENTER3413
REAL SALT LAKERIGHT-CENTER3523
@ SPORTING KCRIGHT-CENTER1110
NEW ENGLANDRIGHTLEFTCENTER3422
@ PHILADELPHIA-RIGHT-1220
SAN JOSE-RIGHTCENTER1110
@ MONTREAL-RIGHTCENTER023-1
SPORTING KCCENTERRIGHTCENTER1000
@ TORONTO FCRIGHT-CENTER001-1
COLORADORIGHT-CENTER1000
@ SAN JOSERIGHT--1110
VANCOUVERRIGHT-CENTER3202
@ SEATTLERIGHT-CENTER3101
HOUSTONRIGHT-CENTER3101
@ PORTLANDRIGHT-CENTER3211
@ SEATTLERIGHT-CENTER1110
NY RED BULLSRIGHT-CENTER1220
COLORADORIGHT-CENTER1110
@ NEW YORK CITYRIGHT-CENTER001-1
@ CHICAGORIGHT-CENTER1220
WHITECAPS-RIGHT-1000
COLUMBUSCENTERRIGHTCENTER3211
@ REAL SALT LAKE-RIGHTCENTER1330
ORLANDO-RIGHTCENTER3422
@ SPORTING KC-RIGHTCENTER1220
SEATTLE-RIGHTCENTER024-2
@ FC DALLAS
@ HOUSTON
FC DALLAS
TOTALS20162848533815

BRUCE ARENA’S TENDENCIES

Steres arguably is Arena’s favorite center back. He has played more minutes than any other member of the team (2,566) and has played in 30 of the Galaxy’s 31 games. He also has started 28 games, and his three absences on the chart match up correctly. In fact, Steres has played more games than Van Damme, who appears to be the prohibitive favorite for team MVP honors. The Belgian international has played 2,256 minutes and made 26 appearances.

Steres starts when he’s healthy; that’s what our chart tells us. Some fans may scratch their heads, but it’s unlikely Arena will change his mind and suddenly bench him. Don’t count on it.

DeLaGarza also starts, but almost exclusively when someone else is hurt or unavailable. If Rogers is healthy, DeLaGarza is on the bench. If Van Damme misses a game, DeLaGarza starts. There have been only five times in 31 games that Steres, Rogers, and DeLaGarza started together. And all were because of an injury to either Cole or Van Damme. Rogers starts when he’s healthy.

So if the argument for keeping DeLaGarza on the bench is correct, then the numbers must prove some significant deficiency, not just in how many goals the Galaxy have allowed but in how many goals they’ve scored and what that goal differential says.

DeLaGarza has started 20 games, and the Galaxy have collected 35 points in those starts. That’s an average of 1.75 points per game (ppg). Steres comes in with a 1.607 ppg and Rogers, in just 16 starts, has a 1.437 ppg. What does this tell us? That the Galaxy, as a group, win or draw more games than they lose.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-7-39-54-pm

Not exactly rocket science, is it?

Next, we look at goals scored and goals allowed. Our hypothesis would say when Rogers is on the field the Galaxy score more goals and possibly allow more. That’s because, between him and DeLaGarza, Rogers is the stronger offensive player, but in one theory, the weaker defensive one.

The Galaxy have scored 30 goals in Rogers’ 16 starts. Compare that to 20 starts for DeLaGarza and 33 Galaxy goals. On average the Galaxy are more likely to score more goals with Rogers on the field (1.875 goals per game) than DeLaGarza (1.65).

But how many goals do the Galaxy give up? When Rogers starts, the goals-against-average (GAA) is 1.50. When DeLaGarza starts, that average drops to 0.95.

And in games in which Rogers has started this season the Galaxy have a goal differential of plus-6, which means they’ve scored six more goals than they’ve allowed. But when DeLaGarza starts, the Galaxy have a plus-14 differential. There is only a four-game difference in starts for DeLaGarza and Rogers, but the plus-8 goal differential cannot be ignored.

Perhaps everything equals out if Rogers plays more games. But the averages, at least for now, indicate otherwise.

UPDATE:

During training today (9.29.2016) Bruce Arena, when speaking with reporters, made the following comments about AJ DeLaGarza:

AJ “has had some injuries. I fully expect him to be back at some point this month.” When asked for what he brings to the team, Arena said, “He communicates. I think on the defensive end of the field he makes us a little better.”

It should be noted that DeLaGarza has not been left off an 18-man roster in an MLS Regular Season game since April 10, 2016 — an away game against the Portland Timbers.

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Producer/Co-Host

I've been covering the LA Galaxy since 2009 and am the Co-Creator, Producer, and Host of all the shows at CoG. I'm also the senior editor for the news side of things. I do this because I love the game. But also because there aren't enough independent news choices when it comes to covering the team. That's my goal - to give you news, and information seen through my lens and to communicate my insight. All thoughts and opinions are my own. And because I'm the boss, it's unlikely I'll fire myself!

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