DC United – LA Galaxy 1:0
Despite making just over a third of their opposition’s shots, DC ultimately edged their west-coast opponents with a last minute winner courtesy of the impressive Pontius.
Neither team showed a great dominance in the game, as Galaxy ended the first half on top to then succumb to a poor performance upon returning to the pitch following the interval. In what was a relatively poor game, the match was probably epitomized by the inefficient, or simply lackluster, possession games of the two sides.
DC fielded an interesting narrow 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 system which was based around the inside movements of the two wide midfielders. Starting as a substitute, Opare was needed to be introduced within the intial minutes of the game following an early injury to Birnbaum, the ex-Galaxy defender slotted into a back four of Franklin, Kemp and his partner in the centre; Boswell. Ahead of them, Kitchen and Arnaud sat, with the former making dropping movements into the defensive line at times during the home side’s 1st phase. Rolfe and Deleon were playing as interiores but later had more variable movements and could be found in wider positions later on. In the front two, Pontius was frequently making dropping movements to support the midfield whilst Arrieta stayed high (though he also moved deeper into the left half space during a few moments where he made some nice contributions and allowed a progression in the attack).
In comparison, the system of the away side was much more variable in possession, yet relied at times too heavily on a crossing attacking strategy. A seemingly nervous Rowe started as goalkeeper behind a back four of Robbie Rogers, Gonzalez, Leonardo and DeLaGarza. Ahead of them, Juninho and Varynen sat in midfield although both could support situationally in Galaxy’s deep and more advanced possession. Ishizaki was one of the key players for the away side, especially in the first 45 as he individually created some decent chances from the right wing, whilst Husidic looked to support Rogers on the left. In attack, Villareal often acted as a linking player whilst the target man Gordon also dropped into the midfield at times in what was a sort of rotating partnership in this aspect.
Galaxy In Possession
Galaxy controlled possession through the first half as they reached half-time on top, however the stat was the balanced out to be virtually 50-50 following a poor second half display. They were slightly focused on wide attacks, yet were quite variable in the spaces which they moved the ball into.
Arena’s side looked quite threatening in central possession, with Villareal causing issues. Both strikers made dropping movements, often in turn whilst the other one stayed against the defensive line, as they looked to exploit the 10 space which was often left unprotected by DC’s defensive block. Especially when their central midfielders were oriented onto Galaxy’s, more space was created whilst if someone was to cover the strikers dropping, it would be the respective centre-back which was far from ideal. However, this was quite often overlooked, especially in the latter 45, as they preferred to utilise the wings where they could play balls into the tall Gordon.
Especially early on in the first half, Robbie Rogers was utilised on a frequent basis down the left flank. Playing the most of his career as a winger, Rogers’ talents definitely reside in going forward, which was emphasised as Galaxy consistently looked to free his runs down the left touchline. In a few scenes, this was done through overloads as Villareal moved wide as well as the involvement of Vayrnen, with numerical superiority they could leave Rogers as the free man to break through the DC midfield. DC didn’t make life easy for themselves as they could’ve had a better ball-near compaction which could’ve worked in preventing such attacks from arising.
Ishizaki was one of LA Galaxy’s more threatening players, as he dominated the right flank in the first half with support from DeLaGarza and situationally Gordon or Juninho. The winger in particular made some impressive deliveries into the wide area and created a number of chances, one of which was the away side’s best chance of the first half as he found Gordon unmarked in the area. However as I have already stated, the great focus on this was ultimately a negative impact on Galaxy.
The supporting movements of DeLaGarza were, like Rogers’ quite interesting in that during a number of situations, he underlapped his teammate into the midfield, which often gave Ishizaki slightly more time and space. Unlike his teammate at left-back, these runs were rarely directly used as he wasn’t integrated as well as the ex-Leeds winger-turned-full-back, instead Ishizaki was much more the main player down the right.
Unfortunately, their attacking strategy was quite disappointing, as there was much focus on crossing, with a slight neglection of the centre especially as the game wore on. With Keane on international duty, this change in attacking strategy is likely a reaction to the changes in personnel up front, as they aimed to utilise the height of Gordon. However even when the impressive crosses of Ishizaki met their target in the penalty area, Galaxy struggled to convert them as is so often the case of crossing. This matter has been touched on previously on SV, as the approach of focusing on crossing into the box is overall one of the most inefficient possible, in contrast to the much overlooked cut-backs. Statistical analyst Michael Caley (@MC_of_A on twitter) states that shots as a header or assisted by a cross have conversion rates between 25%-50% lower than other shots attempted from the same locations (you can find the relevant analysis here).
Galaxy’s Defensive System
LA Galaxy utilised a zonal marking system against DC, with man-orientations. This caused slight issues for the away side, as DC could utilise the inside movements of the two wide players to a better extent as they weren’t followed inside by the LA full-backs. Although they failed to capitalise on the overloads created through this method, some dangerous situations did arise.
Given the matching shapes, there were numerous cases of situational strict man-marking, most commonly in the pressing of either team as both sides looked to disrupt the other’s early possession. In these cases, neither team really had the pace in their ball circulation to disrupt the man-marking, nor were their movements off of the ball
DC Attacking Strategy
The home side’s possession game was a particularly intriguing aspect of this match. Their 4-4-2 shape was often instead a 4-2-2-2 as Deleon and Rolfe frequently came inside to act in the 10 space, whilst the strikers also situationally dropped to support such attacks. Given this, the DC attacks were quite focused on moving through central areas of the pitch, perhaps like their opponents, looking to exploit the open attacking midfield. This structure was utilised quite often in transitions, as during organised possession they failed to gain access to the 10 space, as Galaxy cut off the passing lanes whilst the deeper midfielders for the home side didn’t show the passing ability required at times to penetrate the lines through vertical passing.
DC seemingly made some slight alterations in their approach following the interval, as their positional structure through midfield became wider, whilst the forwards also made lateral movements in some situations. This was seemingly an approach with the intentions of creating more time and space centrally, through overloading the opposition’s defensive line. LA Galaxy’s defence was relatively narrow throughout the match, and preferred it that way so if DC moved a player wide such as Rolfe or DeLeon, the winger was forced to drop in and create a temporary back 5 or 6. As they moved into more of a 6-2-2 shape in reaction to DC’s wide movements, their central control dropped and the home side were much more able to control the ball, as LA couldn’t press as effectively with the lesser numbers, leading to more time available on the ball. You could contribute this as one of the factors as to the change in momentum of the game for DC, as following half time they managed a greater degree of control in possession.
In conclusion, it was evident to see that LA Galaxy suffered in the absence of Robbie Keane, and made a maladaptive change to their attacking strategy which proved to be 0ne of the key reasons as to their inability to score even despite some good crosses in from Ishizaki in particular.