A superlative effort from FC Dallas Sunday night rendered the Galaxy season closed for renovations, Supporter’s Shield in hand, MLS trophy further from grasp than last year.
An extremely telling game for Bruce Arena’s men last night as some tactics were exposed and players as well. Some thoughts:
• Edson Buddle
A lot of folks hating on the MVP candidate this morning. Don’t. Be a little upset, but don’t go beyond there.
As we’ve written before Buddle played a yoeman’s amount of game this year and Bruce Arena rarely–in something we labeled here as an act of lunacy–rested him down the stretch. I remember a particular game late season against the Union where Buddle just kept getting hammered and hammered.
Devoid of a strike partner that could effectively play off him (sorry Mike Magee, Jovan Kirovski), Buddle–after his blistering start–always drew the defense’s top man in coverage and was frequently in coverage.
What Buddle can be faulted for last night is the ability to get knocked off his game by physical after-the-whistle plays. No need to get involved in an on-field skirmish when your team is down 1-0 and you’re the only striker option. You should now be more mature Mr. Westchester.
• A Non-Existent Central Midfield
I expected Bruce Arena to clog the middle with David Beckham falling back and providing an option in the central midfield.
Ironically, if you look back to last year’s conference final against the Dynamo (the Power Outage Game) it was Arena’s movement of Beckham from the wing to central midfield that engined the Galaxy to the win in that one.
Beckham started out extremely wide in this one and did occasionally drift centrally as the game wore on. His play was uneven at best, but the Galaxy needed options.
The tandem of Juninho and Dema Kovalenka might have been better off not taking the pitch at all…at least you could say that on offense. While Kovelenko is never the attacking stalwart, Juninho’s play and movment–sans one scintillating pick pocket, dribble and shot in the 1st half–was flat-out disgusting.
With acres of space at times in front of him Juninho seemed unnerved by the physical Dallas midfield and rarely if ever showed for the ball. When he was in position, he frequently mismanaged the possession by tentatively squaring a weak pass or forcing a lead pass into traffic.
In fact, if you get a second, head on over to ESPN3 and watch the last 10 minutes of the 1st half.
If you’re a Galaxy fan, you will find yourself screaming at Juninho who is either standing still or moving away from a simple and necessary linking opportunity–with yardage in front on him to work in the center of the field if he received it.
While it’s true that Dallas defended well, it’s up to your hub midfielder to set the tone and dissect the defense. Perhaps the youngster was too green on the evening? Either way it’s his job and he didn’t get it done.
• An Unruly Backline
Say what you will of the absence of Gregg Berhalter and perhaps Omar Gonzalez’s lack of communication, but affix your eyes squarely on Donovan Ricketts here.
Ricketts is the veteran out there–Eddie Lewis had his own problems focusing on containing his flank–and he’s been failing to marshall his backline all season (see Wondo, confusion, the Buck in August, 1-0 Earthquakes).
TSG has been beating the anti-Ricketts drum all season and he was not only slow to react to shots, but negligently tardy in calling out defensive assignments or calling out players after an assignment was missed.
Three different times in the game Omar Gonzalez elected to punch a ball out-of-bounds when it wasn’t clear to him if Ricketts was coming up to meet it or wanted a back pass.
That Ricketts won the goalkeeper of the year…we will come back to that….
To the backline…
As I pointed out multiple times on Twitter before Dallas started getting loose on a regular basis, the L.A. back four often looked jaggedas oppose to ruler straight. Omar Gonzalez–who one has to now be concerned about his slow footwork (courtesy TSG’s Mr. Tuesday on this observation)–continually was pulled both out of position and perhaps worse sank the offsides line deeper as Altiba Harris’s speed seemed to scare him.
A.J. De La Garza, who didn’t have a howler, was the victim of a sagging backline and poor midfield play in front of him. De La Garza became a casualty of the “Should I attack or sit back?” conundrum.
Eddie Lewis, in his last MLS game, was acutely attuned to his mark and less the back four partnership and Sean Franklin….dear TSG fave Sean Franklin…did not have one of his better games and seems to play skittishly once Dallas started posing continual threats.
A nightmare evening L.A.’s backline.
• Bruce Arena’s Strategy & Tactics
As much as Arena was to be applauded against Seattle and some of that earned…
Actually, let’s talk about Seattle.
You had David Beckham and Landon Donovan overexerting themselves on the road to protect the flanks and then Seattle needing to come out and attack at HDC without providing cover for a very makeshift Sounders’ backline.
That Arena coaching job fooled me. Probably fooled you too.
Yesterday’s effort by Arena–who continually worked the refs when he penned in Dema Kovalenko in the starting 11…Bruce, you’re not going to get any love with Kovalenko issuing hits out there–was pedestrian.
What I couldn’t believe and worked well early was Beckham split out wide right. The elder English statesmen actually looked proficient with the marble.
However, once the Dallas midfield started working Juninho and Kovalenko over and the Dallas defense didn’t have to collapse in, Dallas ruled the night.
Arena failed to move Beckham–probably his only option–internally (which frankly should have been tried but may or may not have worked).
(A note on Beckham here…we know you want to show off your right-foot-formerly-known-as-Bend-It…but David, you’re out of shape and Dallas wants you to get into a track meet. How about mixing up long balls and link play instead of driving the tempo the Galaxy don’t want. Think about it next time.)
Arena also probably should have flipped Landon in front of Sean Franklin on the right. Franklin, at least during the regular season, was proficient going forward with Donovan ahead of him. On Sunday? Beckham stayed rooted externally where Franklin often makes his run and Franklin was left to be a creator more internally with the ball–not his forte and it obviously didn’t go well.
And finally, with L.A. needing anything to jump-start them, Arena’s final sub was Jovan Kirovski, who lacked any really sense of instilling fear all year long, instead of Tristan Bowen who may have trouble with the final ball, but at least would have had the pace to maybe get something going.
All in all not Arena’s night either.
What’s next Los Angeles?
In the back five (keeper included) the Galaxy will need to work on their communication. Do they need new blood? Maybe, maybe not. A.J. De La Garza and Omar Gonzalez should get better. Sean Franklin is first rate as MLS goes and Todd Dunivant still should have some run as he moves into his 30’s.
The Galaxy may want to think about opening up their goalkeeping situation. You can call me crazy that I don’t believe Donovan Ricketts–who won Goalkeeper of the Year–is even average, but the entire year I’ve seen the same pattern from the now elder Jamaican. Two or three magnificent saves masking slow reaction time and horrible communication.
Up front? The Galaxy will need to make some changes pending their budget. The nice thing is that both Michael Stephens and Cazumba should play a bigger roles next year. Stephens looks capable despite hitting the rookie wall and Cazumba will need some seasoning but should be a good cog in the first eleven.
Juninho should get better with another year and more tutelage. Beckham and Donovan, assume they’re back for the purposes of this piece as will be Edson Buddle.
After that the Galaxy will need to bring in some reinforcements. Arena can’t possible rely on Buddle to run the entire show up top. Mike Magee is a nice player, but a nice back-up that is. Dear Bruce, after the Alan Gordon trade, what was your thinking?
The Galaxy should make a play for striker-forward–preferably who is left footed–so they can create some different match-up challenges for opponents by moving Donovan, Buddle and Mr. New Leftfoot around in different looks of a 3-man, 2-man and 1-man front.
Next the Galaxy will need to get a little more seasoned playmaker in the middle. Can Juninho really be that guy there? I think so…but that’s probably the same answer the front office is thinking.
“I think so” in such a critical position is not good enough.
Ironically, the ideal player for the Galaxy was sitting on the other side of the pitch last night in Dax McCarty who’s got the ability, bite and experience to man the center or move out wide and provide cover as well.
The Hoops have him tied up though as they steamroll now to Toronto with the destruction in the City of Angels in their wake.