Breaking the Bunker: New Formation, Same Problems for LA Galaxy

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I received a lot of good feedback on my article last week on the Los Angeles Galaxy’s new formation. One of the most common comments was speculation over whether this new formation would help the team overcome what did them in during the playoffs last year.

In the home leg of the playoffs last year, Real Salt Lake played two defensive mids in an effort to neutralize a Galaxy attack that lacked width. It worked, and it’s a gambit future managers will likely consider when lining up against the Galaxy.  Now, despite the recent formation change for Galaxy, they are still relying heavily on playing through the center, so questions remained following the game against Chivas USA whether the new formation could help overcome teams looking to use the same gambit as former RSL coach, Jason Kreis, to neutralize the team’s central attack.

Surprisingly, they got at least a partial answer to this question sooner than expected last Saturday when Vancouver came to town and unexpectedly fielded a 4-2-3-1 designed for maximum midfield disruption. The game offered a glimpse of some of the team’s new capabilities under this new formation, but also showed signs of some of the same limitations as last year. Let’s break it down.

Once again Bruce Arena deployed what I am now dubbing the zirconium formation– Diamond in appearance, but with a fluidity that makes it anything but traditional. If you recall the week before against Chivas USA, the formation played more like a three forward system, due to an opposition which offered very little resistance in the midfield. Vancouver’s 4-2-3-1 was an entirely different story, however, and the formation adapted accordingly. Here you can find the average positional charts for the game.

Once again you will notice that the positioning of Stefan Ishizaki relative to Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane in no way resembles a true diamond. Unlike the game against Chivas USA, however, where Ishizaki played so high up on the field he was level with Donovan, it was Donovan this time who dropped back into the midfield to play level with Ishizaki. It is clear that the positional understanding between these two players will be key to the Galaxy’s success this year. With the aid of Donovan in mid, the Galaxy were able to boss the midfield, but were not able to create as many chances as they would have liked. Vancouver’s tactics were still having their desired effect; however, what finally broke the bunker was indeed part of a new wrinkle in the Galaxy attack. Last week I noted how a fluid front three can be a nightmare to defend, and we saw this on Robbie Keane’s goal. Ishizaki started from a central position and made a run out wide, pulling veteran centerback Jay Demerit with him. Robbie Keane made a smart run into the space vacated by Demerit, and the Vancouver backline wasn’t fast enough transitioning the mark. Ishizaki hit a perfect cross, Keane offered an excellent finish, and the result was a perfect goal.

This new fluidity up top may be a new wrinkle in the attack, but it’s effectiveness in this game is debatable. The fact is, if this were the playoffs, the Galaxy would still be heading into the away leg with only a goal advantage, and Vancouver would be fairly happy with the result.

So what needs to change for the Galaxy to neutralize this tactic? For one thing, it would serve the Galaxy well to improve their distance shooting. Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas have shown glimpses of a good outside shot, but both need to be more consistent.  Stefan Ishizaki and Baggio Hušidić are the x factors here, as it is unclear what they can do. In terms of options on the bench, Robbie Rogers has shown a quality distance shot in the past– a quality that could conceivably make him a late game bunker buster off the bench, but as he has yet to put in a quality performance in a Galaxy shirt, it’s hardly the most viable of options. It will be up to the players on the field to up their game. Another great way to prevent teams from clogging up the inside passing lanes, would be to improve wing play from the outside backs. Be it A.J. DeLaGarza, Dan Gargan or Todd Dunivant, as outside backs need to be able to deliver threatening balls from the wings. It is perhaps here that the offseason trades have hurt the Galaxy the most, losing the likes of Sean Franklin and Greg Cochrane. If the Galaxy cannot improve these aspects of their game, look for more teams to employ similar tactics against them in the future.


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