Monday, July 25, 2016

Portland v. LA: The Open Secret to LA's Success

That one that hit the easel? That's me on Vancouver.
[Portland Timbers v. Los Angeles Galaxy was one of three games I took in this weekend (on that, didn't go well). I'm trying to do better about writing up the empirical stuff.]

I wrote up Portland versus LA elsewhere, if mostly from the Timbers' point of view, but even that post was lousy with the central truth about LA: they are one hell of a sound defensive team. Small wonder, then, that they're crawling up the Western Conference standings, small wonder they're rocking a now-four-game winning streak. As noted in that post, LA has allowed three goals in their past eight games, a tally that pencils out to 0.375 goals per game. In other words, good.

Just 19 goals allowed so far, less than a goal a game. They have 34 goals for on the other side of the ledger; only five Major League Soccer teams have more...all of which rolls into a theme I'll discuss in the weekly post when that goes up – e.g. how very, very wrong I can sometimes be when I speak/write. Think I said something about LA "not being all that good" a couple weeks ago, and in a public, recorded forum, so, yeah...

I don't make it to lot of live games (have a love (clocking fan sentiment; fan noise is good) / hate (the commute/time commitment; you want what for a beer?!) relationship with the entire concept), but a huge accidental bonus came with going to see this one live. My usual seats provide a great view of the field from the end-line, and that gives me a nice look at spacing across the field. Regardless of whether I'm watching at the stadium or on the TV, I spend most of my time searching out holes, gaps and seams – e.g. space for attacking teams to exploit. And that's the thing with LA: with gaps 'n' seams are in such short supply, I generally defaulted to thinking, "switch it," a phrase I didn't think could be muttered in defeat with a silent "I dunno," in front of it, at least not until last Sunday. Nowhere to go but nowhere.

Portland got through once, almost twice, but LA's two early goals were enough. I have two thoughts on that. First, LA could compact its defense, therefore making it harder to break down. Second, and this matters more: I talked about the first goal Portland surrendered (verb choice deliberate) at length in that other post, but their second feels closer to what's been working well for them this season – e.g. a long ball to a skilled player in isolation, in this case Emanuel Boateng. One touch to trap, a second touch to pass and - boom! - goal. The ball that released Boateng came from Jelle "Chippy Shithead" Van Damme and the same player came hold-your-breath close to finding Robbie "So Hateable" Keane with the same kind of ball in the second half. A play like that, and having the players to pull it off, keeps a team dangerous while letting it keep its defense compact. In fact, that compactness gives those players more space for isolation/in which to operate. Maddening shit, this, 'cause I really, really hate LA.

A couple players deserve honorable mention here: LA has a big (Jeff Larentowicz) and scary/full-of-asshole (Nigel de Jong) central defensive midfield pairing that shields an already good defense. Of perhaps more interest: how often and well Giovani dos Santos got back to defend. Sure, his role means that's his job, but that he does it well only makes LA a tougher team.

And that's the last thing any team in the Western Conference, or the rest of MLS, needs. And, damn, just looked at LA's 14 remaining games. A whole lot of that is very, very winnable.

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