(Editorial) – A weeks ago, the LA Galaxy were in second place in the Western Conference and looked to have the inside track to keeping that seed. A second half collapse against the Portland Timbers complicated things significantly. After a disaster of a Decision Day, the LA Galaxy have finished fifth in the conference.
Instead of having a knockout round bye, they will play ON THE ROAD against the Seattle Sounders. Oh, how the defending champions have fallen in the past week.
You can find the full MLS Cup Playoff Knockout Round schedule here.
There are concerns about both the attack and the defense. The team is on a poor run of form, finishing the season 1-3-1 in league play. Above all else, the LA Galaxy have been terrible on the road this year, with only two road wins in league with only 12 points in 17 games (third worst in MLS).
To keep their hopes of a sixth MLS Cup alive, they’re going to have to do what currently seems improbable: win a road game against a good attacking team. With this in mind, what’s wrong with LA? How can they fix their issues and is there any hope for Wednesday night? Let’s break it down.
The defense is a mess.
The Galaxy has surrendered 7 goals in their last two games. The back line has normally been the foundation for success for LA: strong center back play in the air, experience and chemistry, good support from the midfield, and top class emergency defending. They are a shell of themselves at the moment.
While Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo have been good individually at times, they are not playing well as a pair right now. Both have had moments where they’ve gotten burned, resulting in goals. Their play together was a big part of why they made it to MLS Cup last year. Now, they aren’t good 1-v-1 or as a pair. Gonzalez and Leonardo have some soul searching to do before Wednesday’s match.
Also lacking has been the defensive support from the midfield. It’s been well documented that Gyasi Zardes does not always mark his man on the wing. Neither does Giovani dos Santos when played at right midfield.
The central midfield pairing haven’t stepped up to help stop dangerous attacks at times as well. Juninho had two opportunities to stop Benny Feilhaber on Sporting’s second goal on Sunday. Steven Gerrard also has not done well tracking back. Both need to work harder and do a better job controlling the gap between the lines.
Gerrard and Juninho are leaving a huge hole in the middle of the park. Teams can stretch the field, forcing Gonzalez and Leonardo to spread out where they can be taken advantage of by faster play-makers in space. That hole in the middle also leaves the two on an island against a skilled striker. Dom Dwyer gave the Galaxy fits on Sunday. Imagine how that will look on Wednesday if these gaps exist for Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey.
The entire back four needs to step up and the two central midfielders need to do a better job communicating.
The offense just isn’t clicking.
It’s become apparent that Robbie Keane and Dos Santos aren’t on the same page in the attack. Both have the tendency to drift out wide to collect the ball. They’re both trying to be the play-maker with chance creation running through them. This and their lack of familiarity has caused some miscommunication and discontinuity in the attack.
Keane and Zardes weren’t a perfect striker pair, but Zardes knew he was Robin and he played that role well. This team isn’t big enough for two Batmen. Head coach Bruce Arena has not done a good job making this pair work in this system. Continuing to operate with this dysfunction could lead to a very dark night in Seattle.
Their plan of attack on the road is a head scratcher. At Salt Lake, Seattle, and Kansas City, they willingly conceded possession, played organized, and counter attacked. At home against Portland (prior to the game getting out of hand), they were winning possession, getting numbers forward, and creating a high volume of chances and shots.
It’s unclear whether this has been by design or not. In any case, with the defense in it’s current state, they can’t rely on bunkering to get results. This iteration of the LA Galaxy has always been at their best when they dominate possession, stretch the field, and get numbers into the box. Tiki Taco appears to be only possible at home. They’re going to need to resurrect it in Seattle at some point to try and score.
They do have somethings going for them.
As I’ve previously argued, end-of-season form hasn’t meant much to the LA Galaxy in the past. This team has regularly risen to the occasion when it is required. Furthermore, if there’s any team they regularly get up for, it’s the Seattle Sounders. Perhaps this is just what this team needs to snap out of it and go on a playoff run.
Despite their ignominious road form, CenturyLink Field is one of the places they play well at. They are 7-5-7 all time at CenturyLink.
Even when they haven’t been able to win there, they’ve been able to get the result they needed. In the last two playoff games played there, LA fell 2-1 but was able to advance to the next round of the playoffs. Even though they didn’t win, they managed the game and got what they needed. They don’t have that luxury this time around in a single elimination game.
Seattle’s 3-1 demolition of RSL could be misleading. RSL had nothing to play for (they’d already been eliminated from the playoffs) and were without Kyle Beckerman, their midfield anchor. They also had a midweek CCL match that mattered way more in the long run. Blowing out inferior and unmotivated competition isn’t always an indication of being playoff ready.
While they probably already got over this hump last year, Seattle could crumble under the pressure at home. They’ve done it before. This seems like the perfect chance for them to exercise their playoff demons against their Western Conference rival. There’s no first leg deficit to make up. They’re at home. The enemy appears weak. They couldn’t possibly screw this up, could they?
The odds don’t appear to be in the Galaxy’s favor, but this is MLS. Anything’s possible in a one game playoff. This team has their work cut out for them. Let the MLS Cup Playoffs begin.