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Backpass: Sizing Up the Galaxy

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The final meeting with the LA Galaxy for the year. What did we learn?

MLS: Colorado Rapids at LA Galaxy Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A fight between two animals: dogs; lions; mixed martial arts foes; is usually preceded by circling. I’m no expert on this - I don’t much like violence. But the idea behind the circling seems to be: let me see how you move. Let me see if you can be caught off guard. Let me see if I can detect fear in your eyes, and then strike at you when you decide to be a bit defensive.

Colorado and LA have done the circling for this season, and now each of us know what we’re getting if and when there is another dogfight. In the first match, Colorado tried to exhaust the older and altitudinally challenged Angelenos, for a 1-0 win on a late Marco Pappa goal.

In the second, Brian Rowe and Zac MacMath were spectacular to keep it 0-0 to the finish.*

In this match, both teams played a healthy mix of all kinds of soccer: high press, deep protection; long ball, short pass; strike on the counter, slow building from the back. We saw both teams really go at it. And although LA looked better in bursts, the finishing from Sebastian Lletget, Emanuel Boateng, and Giovani Dos Santos let them down, while Shkelzen Gashi did this:

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I think what was most important from this match was how absolutely even the Rapids played against an LA Galaxy side with star power and talent and size and the home fans on their side. Brian Rowe has emerged as a talented keeper. Lletget and Boateng have speed to spare. Gyasi Zardes and Steven Gerrard and Giovani Dos Santos create offensive havoc. Jelle Van Damme, Nigel De Jong, and Daniel Steres can body up just about anybody, using legal tactics or not. Steres goal required him to head the ball over Bobby Burling and Axel Sjoberg. Yes, you read that right.

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These matches will likely be key in the strong possibility that the two teams meet up in the playoffs; the video tape will be closely scrutinized, and every possession will be analyzed and dissected by Steve Cooke, Pablo Mastroeni, John Spencer, and Padraig Smith. If the playoffs started tomorrow, second-place Colorado and third-place LA would likely end up meeting in the two-legged Western Conference semifinal, assuming LA could get by their first round opponent, the Portland Timbers, in the knockout round. Even if the teams changed spots, history tells us that going to MLS Cup usually requires going through Carson, California at some stage.

We’ve learned that LA are still formidable without the two Robbies - Keane and Rogers. The defense is exceptional. Steven Gerrard can still run and defend a little. Giovani Dos Santos was able to slip inside Sam Cronin and Axel Sjoberg too many times. Sebastian Lletget thundering towards you is terrifying.

And yet this team is beatable. They open up too much space, and they prefer to mark the attacking wings while letting Eric Miller and Marc Burch carry the ball forward. They tire late. They let the Rapids get on the front foot early before wresting control of the game back. They may have five stars on their kit, but the Rapids showed now fear in coming into LA’s house, opening up a can of Pringles, and making a mess on the couch.

I really hope these two play in the playoffs.

That Thing Tim Howard Did, and the Things Before and After

Once again Tim Howard did a fantastic thing. But there were some things to note before and after that. In fact, this is kinda my whole Backpass analysis this week. Sometimes you look at the forest, sometimes a tree. This week, it’s a leaf.

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Dos Santos dumps a slow ball off to Boateng. Eric Miller thinks he can get there, but misjudges the ball, and Boateng is off to the races in acres of space. Sam Cronin does about as much as a human can possibly do to make it hard on Boateng, so he dumps it off to Stevie G.

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Why do people still occasionally rave about Gerrard? Because he settles this ball in stride with one touch, maintains his pace, and rifles a through-ball past a helpless Bobby Burling to Zardes.

Only an insane Tim Howard save keeps this from being 1-0, Galaxy. I deem this play the very last time that I will entertain the question ‘Would Zac MacMath have saved that?’ Mmm, maybe. Doesn’t matter. Tim Howard is the goalkeeper, and I’m not going to weigh the relative merits of spending seven figures on a goalie again until further notice. Howard saved it, and perhaps that is the difference between one point and three.

But wait! There’s more! Here was the very next play:

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Badji gets the ball cleared out of the 18 yard box to him, and he pops a solid pass out to Kevin Doyle, camped out center left. Gashi is off the races up the gut, and Doyle... kinda dribbles, and... there’s an opening... but no... but look at Marly... (sigh.) If he had speed, he could be in on goal. If he was a sharp passer, Gashi might have seen that ball in a killer spot. But no, he’s just a hard-nosed holdup guy with not a lot to show for it as a DP forward. He draws defenders and can hold the ball for other runners, but he’s our DP striker and he doesn’t score.

The Rapids unloaded Deshorn Brown, who scored 10 goals each in back to back seasons, to give Doyle the reins. Doyle scored 5 goals his first year, and looks on pace to get 7 or 8 goals in his sophomore campaign. So unless I’m unclear on what the main role of a striker is, it doesn’t look like it’s worked out as hoped. Arrgh.

I’ll just leave this here.

Also Ashley Cole Did a Thing

I was rough on the Galaxy in my season preview (I got a shoutout on the Total Soccer Show podcast for it! Made my week). I was especially tough on Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole, so it’s poetic justice they should each do something neato in this game. Here’s Cole, depants-ing Marlon Hairston with what is called an ‘in-step cut’ (I just learned that that’s what it’s called).

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Lastly, Look at This

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Look at this!

No, not the formation.

Not the defenders.

Not the fans.

Not match official Juan Guzman.

Look at the electric signboards.

Shasta! Did you know Shasta still existed? Did you EVER know Shasta existed? Did you know they could afford to advertise? That’s incredible. I last had Shasta at my public elementary school in fifth grade back in 1986, and haven’t heard of it since. Not since Budweiser advertised the Chelado - which is apparently a combination of tomato juice, clam juice, and Budweiser beer - was I as surprised over the existence of a beverage.

I want a Shasta right now almost as bad as I want Pablo’s grey suit from last week. Chelado... notsomuch.

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*Note: Brian Rowe went off with a nasty looking injury to his head in the late stages of this match. My hopes for a full and speedy recovery to him.