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Jun 272012

What a difference the international break makes!

Before their three week mini-vacation due to the World Cup qualifiers, the LA Galaxy were limping through the first part of the MLS season. Owners of a 3-8-2 record relegating them to the bottom of the league’s Western Conference, we all had our theories as to why reigning champs’ season seemed DOA.

But returning from the break to a grueling week of three matches in seven days, to everyone’s surprise the Galaxy collected all nine points available, while moving up the table four spots and into playoff contention. And now, the talk isn’t so much what went wrong, but “what’s gotten into this club?”

After defeating the Portland Timbers 1-0, the Galaxy went on the road to face league-leading Real Salt Lake. Despite going down 2-0 in less than 25 minutes, LA managed a 3-2 comeback victory in one of MLS’s toughest places to play. And while the come-from-behind victory may have been the Galaxy’s must surprising result of their current 3-match winning streak, it was surely not their best.

soccer ball in grass thumb6261777 Four on the Floor: Galaxy Go for Four Straight Keeping It on the Carpet

The 3-0 win versus Vancouver was without a doubt the Galaxy’s best win to date on the scoresheet and aesthetically. Flying out of the gate, the Galaxy put the Whitecaps under constant pressure in midfield, found the feet of their two star forwards, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, playing to the strengths, while getting around the Whitecaps’ defense by overloading the flanks with a strong match from defender Sean Franklin. And of all these winning tactics, the key to each Galaxy attack on the night was the team’s resolve to play the ball along the floor, carpet, grass, or whatever you want to call it; LA’s commitment to playing the ball on the ground and shying away from the aerial game they so often reverted to early in the season is what made this team look so dominant on the night.

Too many times this season, we’ve seen a frustrated Galaxy team revert to finding the feet of David Beckham away from the midfield pressure and deep in defense, only to have the Englishman sending ball after ball over the top of the opposing defense in “route one” fashion. While no one can argue with Beckham’s ability to put a pass wherever he likes on the pitch, the desperation tactic was easy to defend and allowed opposing defenses to defend deeper and deeper while frustrating the usually behind Galaxy even further. But in the Vancouver match, we saw a fluid midfield with Beckham much higher up the pitch and rarely dropping to the right back spot to spray balls around the pitch.

No statistic better illustrates this point than the 84% passing rate the Galaxy ended the Vancouver match with. Teams focused on playing the ball to feet and on the ground are naturally going to have a higher success rate passing than those relying on long balls. In fact, the Galaxy’s pass rate was their best since their 3-1 over Portland in fifth match of the season. Furthering the point, LA had not passed at a rate above 80% in any of their other matches this year. Their only other 80% performance was in a match at home against a Theirry Henry-less Red Bulls, in which the away team snatched an early goal and defended deep the remaining 80 minutes of the match.

In that Red Bulls’ match, the Galaxy would fall 1-0 despite their 80% pass rate, and while it would appear judging by that stat the ground game failed LA, they also ended that match with an astounding 33 crosses from open play. Clearly, the aerial game was in full effect and resulting in little by way of goals. Maybe the loss of Omar Gonzalez really did affect more than the Galaxy back line with so few crosses resulting in goals, but consider this: in the matches leading up to the current 3-game wining streak LA averaged 16 crosses per game, averaging only 9 in their three straight wins. In those 3 wins, LA has averaged 2.33 goals per match and only 1.15 in the games prior.

With a trip to the table-topping San Jose Earthquakes on tap for this weekend and many predicting a Galaxy resurgence, it would appear the Galaxy’s new found style of play, simple and on the floor, is the key to not only the team’s attack but also their ability to play the possession-based style we’d come so accustomed to seeing in their championship run. This weekend, if LA can keep their slick passing game and shy away from bogging down the match with Beckham long balls, the team will be successful and take a lot of pressure off a still fragile centerback pairing. 

To keep the train rolling, it’ll have to be “four on the floor” for LA.

Vincent LaRosa

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