Parking the bus. Bunker ball. Anti-football. These are all the derogatory terms we use for the tactic of sitting 11 men behind the ball in order to frustrate the offense of a superior soccer team. Fearing another blow out, Chivas USA resorted to a radically defensive 5-4-1 formation on Sunday, essentially adding a classic sweeper to their backline.
Chivas came into the game looking for a tie, and at the end of the day, they got exactly that.
So what can be learned from this game (LA V CHIVAS (TACTICAL ANALYSIS)? Ultimately the Galaxy walk away with the knowledge that perhaps the team’s biggest Achilles heel hasn’t been addressed.
Before joining the Corner of the Galaxy team, I wrote this piece for another site highlighting a tactic that opposing managers have developed to try and steal points from the LA Galaxy. In the playoffs last year, Jason Kreis altered the RSL diamond and instead played two d-mids during the home playoff leg. When Vancouver came to town this year, they similarly focused on clogging up the central passing lanes and nearly walked away from the game with a point. Last Sunday, Chivas deployed the ultimate bunker formation. But unlike RSL and Vancouver – who actively sought to counter – Chivas sat back contentedly, and mustered almost no offense for the entire game. It was a drastic tactic, but in the end it paid off for them.
Why is this so effective against the Galaxy? It all starts with the way in which LA’s offense works.
The LA Galaxy came out in a diamond midfield, with Gyasi Zardes initially starting up top and Landon in the midfield. It didn’t take long, however, for Gyasi and Landon to switch positions. Many people have claimed that the Galaxy reverted back to a flat four at this point, but the data suggests that the Galaxy remained in the diamond. Here are the action areas for both Juninho and Sarvas:
As you can see, Sarvas pushed much higher up the pitch. On the wings, Stefan Ishizaki and Gyasi Zardes pinched in considerably, which is something which is not typical of a flat four.
Using opta data, here is how whoscored.com charted the LA Galaxy in terms of average positioning.
Galaxy soccer is all about creating goal scoring opportunities through fluid interchange of central parts. Playing up the middle is a trademark of Galaxy soccer, and it is the reason that a narrow diamond midfield works so well for us. It is also the reason that when teams make a concerted effort to clog up the middle passing lanes, LA’s offense tends to struggle.
If the Galaxy want to win their 5th MLS cup, they will need to learn to break a bunker, as teams will no doubt be looking to do exactly what RSL did last year in the home leg of that series. In order to do this, the Galaxy have to improve in the following departments.
One of the best ways to break a bunker is good ol’ fashioned wide play, and in the Galaxy’s game against Chivas, the Galaxy proved how woefully inadequate they are in this department. The Galaxy had plenty of crosses—totaling 29 from the run of play. But of those 29, only four resulted in a shot or header. Three of those crosses came from Robbie Rogers. One of them came from Sarvas.
Of course, it’s unfair to blame everything on the crosses. Robbie Rogers completed 50% of his 10 crosses, and still the Galaxy were unable to convert any of them. Some of this has to do with Chivas having an extra man in the back, and some of it has to do with personnel. Unlike San Jose or Houston, the Galaxy aren’t exactly built for this style of game. Landon Donovan is by no means an imposing figure in the box. Samuel has yet to show much in the way of aerial ability. Hindsight being 20-20, perhaps Bruce should have brought in Rob Friend earlier.
Another great way to break a bunker is to take shots from outside the box, and in the game against Chivas, the Galaxy took plenty of shots — but were they the right shots? Here is a graphic of all 21 of the shots the Galaxy took. Shots marked in red are off target. Shots marked in green are on target, and shots marked in yellow are blocked.
As you can see, in general, the Galaxy tried to create goal scoring chances the Galaxy way— inside the box. With an extra man on the backline, however, clear shots were hard to come by. LA ended up missing the target on eight shots within the box, and had two shots within the box blocked.
This game was absolutely begging for shots from distance. As you can see, the Galaxy managed only two shots on target from outside the box. In games like these you need guys like Juninho, Sarvas and Ishizaki to step up and produce dangerous shots on goal. If nothing else, precise shots from a distance will make the defense think twice about dropping back so far when these players receive the ball, which in turn will create space for the Galaxy attack to exploit.
Be it width or shooting or a combination of the two, the Galaxy need to figure out a way to beat teams who make a concerted effort to choke the Galaxy attack by clogging up the center lanes. Sure: teams that do this will, more often than not, fail to win the game. But their chances of walking away from Stub Hub with a tie go up considerably.
And come playoff time, those ties (or even single digit margins of victory during the home leg of a playoff series) will come back to bite.