The Galaxy are an enigma. Spearheaded by the talented and telepathically linked forward duo of Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, built on the foundation of US national team defender Omar Gonzalez and perennial best-kept-secret midfielder Juninho, boasting the most dynamic and dangerous young homegrown attacker in the league, and led by four-time MLS Cup winner Bruce Arena, they have all the talent and wisdom to be dominating the league — or at least vying with the Sounders. Instead they dangle just above the playoff redline.
For sure, much of that is an illusion conjured with a big difference in games played — they have the fewest games in the conference and three fewer games than the three teams in front of them in the standings. But not all of their concerns are wiped away by looking at points per game. Even by that standard they're well below the conference leaders and even below schizophrenic Real Salt Lake and last year's worst-season-of-all-time achieving DC United. And even that points per game rate has been built on a deceptively easy schedule. Much was made of their 8 game unbeaten run, but 6 of those games were at home. On the road they could only draw the Fire and edge out a 1 goal win over the Earthquakes. And their last two matches have been a loss to Sporting and a 7-1 pasting at the hands of Manchester United in a friendly.
|Robbie Keane||The 34-year-old centerpiece of the Galaxy attack. Can score goals and kick you in the nuts with equal skill and flair.|
|Omar Gonzalez||Assuming he returns, he's the rock of the defense, even if the Sounders don't employ an aerial attack he excels against.|
|Juninho||The midfield focus who lets everyone else do their job with confidence. His positioning is excellent and he can just as well make a tackle on a break as hit a 25 yard shot.|
By my ratings the Galaxy have had the 6th easiest schedule so far this season, and to see how they've taken advantage you need only look at whom they've succeeded against. They have only three wins by more than one goal all season — against New England (the current, terrible edition), Philadelphia, and Chivas. They have two road wins all season: against Chivas and abject San Jose. To take advantage of their talent and make a push this season, they'll have to beat a playoff team on the road, and their next road games are against Seattle, Columbus, and Colorado. So we'll find out soon enough if they can manage it.
Through most of the season, Arena has resculpted the Galaxy into a diamond formation as he tries to find the right recipe to get Keane, Donovan, and Gyasi Zardes on the field and effective at the same time. Zardes struggles in the midfield and excels in a forward pairing with Keane. That could push Donovan to the wing, where he's had many good years, but his pace is no longer wing-worthy and the Galaxy don't have a reliable player to put on the other wing in a bucket 4-4-2. So instead he's been converted to a CAM in the diamond, which is an unusual position for him and thus far he hasn't shown the makings of a dynamic playmaker.
That's the look LA put out in their first half on the road against KC last week, but they were pretty impotent offensively in the first half — being outshot 9-2 — and at the half Arena moved Donovan back to forward and Zardes back to the left wing in a sort of 4-1-3-2. That produced a better offensive showing and I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Arena has had enough of the diamond and that he's going to commit to Donovan and Keane as a forward pair and force Zardes to figure himself out on the wing.
If that is the lineup, it creates an interesting dynamic for this game. Because the best way to attack the Galaxy is to attack the flanks at pace. Neither of their fullbacks are fast or convincing defenders, especially if they continue to play center back Tommy Meyer on the flank. Juninho is not a natural defensive midfielder able to support them, and the center backs don't have much range either. But Seattle's most natural outlet for attacking the wings at pace is DeAndre Yedlin making overlapping runs, and that leaves the space behind him open. Against a diamond, that's not as much of a problem as there's no opposing winger dedicated to that area. But if Zardes is on the wing he could be free to run wild on Seattle's right flank.
The Galaxy defense should also be bolstered by the return of Omar Gonzalez, but against Seattle that'll matter less than you might think. Omar's primary strength is aerial dominance, but the Sounders attack no longer runs through the air. Against Martins and Dempsey, Gonzalez will have to rely on quick feet to snuff out their interplay, and that is a skill he's never had in abundance. Though the Galaxy have one of the best defenses in the league by goals per game, as I said I think that's built on a weak schedule.
The mercurial MLS schedulers may have screwed us in the Cascadia Cup race, but they did us a solid with two of our three games against the Galaxy at home, and the away game is the last game of the season (when the Shield could be secured and the game wouldn't matter to us). But we have to take advantage, and with the Galaxy still trying to find the right setup and yet to beat a playoff team on the road, it's a perfect time to take points off of the crown jewel of the league.