By Kevin Koczwara
There was a lot of talk of the Los Angeles Galaxy playing poorly against the New England Revolution and lost 3-1. It seemed like Arlo White and Kyle Martino, the announcers for the game on NBC Sports, believed that the Galaxy’s poor play was the only factor in the game. What the two announcers failed to acknowledge was that one team’s positive play and game plan can make its opponent look like a U-8 side all out of ideas.
Revolution coach Jay Heaps showed his tactical acumen against Los Angeles with a flawless game plan. Heaps noticed some weaknesses in the Galaxy team sheet and went after them.The major omission and weakness for Bruce Arena’s Los Angeles side was the injury to Landon Donovan, the team’s attacking focal point and creator in the attacking third.
Without Donovan, a natural winger who can play on either side of the midfield or an attacking three, Arena opted to play Marcelo Sarvas and Paolo Cardozo, two central midfielders, on the flanks. Cardoza and Sarvas wanted to drift inside for Los Angeles, and the outside backs Sean Franklin and Todd Dunivant were supposed to provide the width in the attack, something they do well when the Galaxy are playing at their best.
New England knew this and worked hard at forcing Dunivant and Franklin — two excellent left and right backs — back into their own half to defend instead of pushing up high and creating space and sending in crosses. By having Kelyn Rowe, Ryan Guy and Lee Nguyen press the backs high on the field and not follow their overlaps, the Revs had easy outlets and fast and fluid counter-attacks when the time came. Cardoza and Sarvas’ unwillingness to stretch the Revs outside backs by staying central allowed Rowe, Guy and Nguyen to stay high. They could mark them and not have to follow an overlapping Dunivert or Franklin.
Last year when these two teams met, Franklin ran up and down the right side of the field, sending in one cross after the other. He exploited the space along the sideline because Donovan and Mike Magee were pushing high as well and taking on defenders, making the outside midfielders for the Revs at the time come into deeper positions. By pressing Franklin and Dunivert when they had the ball at half and by keeping its wide midfielders high up the field, the Revs pushed Franklin and Dunivert into their own half, making its defensive third extremely narrow. That made marking Robbie Keane and Edson Buddle easier because they didn’t want to drift outside either.
Essentially, Heaps knew that without Donovan, there is no player on the Galaxy roster who possess the willingness or pace to run at outside defenders and stretch the field. A congested midfield meant David Beckham couldn’t spray balls across the field from the regista position to open up play, and his lack of pace could be exploited on the counter attack.
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Saer Sene was signed to score goals. The former Bayern Munich reserve team player was signed with the hopes that he would add some experience and class in front of the goal. Against Los Angeles, Sene had one chance on goal and finished it. But he played a bigger role in exploiting space and creating gaps for other players to run into.
Sene showed early and often for the ball in the midfield. As the lone forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation (Guy was playing in the withdrawn forward/central attacking midfield role for large portions of the game), Sene dropped into the midfield and dragged his marker with him — either A.J. DeLaGarza or Andrew Boyens. This allowed Guy, Rowe and Nguyen to attack the space he vacated and exploit the shifting backline of LA. On a lot of the breaks, it was one of those players running into that vacated space and playing a little one-two with someone else to create a scoring opportunity. Nguyen cut in from the left while Rowe cut in from the right and Guy drifted out wide into the space Rowe vacated. The movement caused nightmares for an already troubled Galaxy backline.
Edson Buddle and Robbie Keane who?
With Clyde Simms and Shalrie Joseph sitting in front of the back four, A.J. Soares and Stephen McCarthy didn’t have to worry about marking runners from the midfield. And with the Revs pushing everything inside, McCarthy and Soares weren’t troubled by crosses being whipped into the box. They only had to worry about marking Buddle and Keane, the Galaxy’s two forwards. Neither Keane or Buddle are streaking forwards with bundles of pace. They rely on good service and opportunities in the box. With the supply line shut off from the wings, Keane and Buddle were asked to try and take down long balls over the defense.Soares and McCarthy were more than willing to defend that and win the aerial battle with the smaller Galaxy forwards.
The Revolution (2-2-0 6 pts.) hadn’t won in the Pacific or Mountain time zone in its previous 17 tries, but with a solid game plan to press high up the field and force the Galaxy (1-2-0 3 pts.) to play narrow, the Revolution ended the winless streak. The Galaxy are still one of the top teams in the league, but Major League Soccer is a league of parody and a hard salary cap, so if one team works its game plan to perfection it has a real good chance of winning. New England did just that and should be earning more accolades from White, Martino and others.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.