Eye on the MLS: LA v DC (9/18)

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Landon Donovan  of the Los Angeles Galaxy and Dejan Jakovic  of D.C. United vie for the hight ball in the second half during the MLS match at The Home Depot Center on September 18, 2010 in Carson, California. The Galaxy defeated United 2-1. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

As the Major League Soccer season approaches it’s inevitably Gringo-heavy conclusion this fall, FFG will choose an MLS fixture each week to feature in detailed analysis. Rather than simple summaries (which you can get on any two-bit “soccer” site), we’ll discuss issues, tactics and players especially relevant to the USMNT, and end each post with a “Memo to Bob Bradley,” generously eschewing our knowledge and analysis without any overblown consultant fees.

LA Galaxy 2 – DC United 1 (9/18)

Both teams met the starting whistle with very Bradley-esque 4-4-2 formations, although the character of the players at certain positions quickly changed the shape for both teams (more on that in a moment). DC played the first half with considerable poise and confidence considering their anemic performance this season (Edson Buddle has nearly as many goals as their ENTIRE TEAM put together). This was due in large part to the surprisingly, pleasantly fresh introduction of Argentine forward Pablo Hernandez into the DC lineup. While Allsop was the “bait” deep in the LA defense, Hernandez dropped into the midfield and served as a link between the DC extremes. On the ball he showed both skill and vision, often serving up threatening passes, especially to the menacing boy-phenome Najar.

Najar, in fact, has been the MLS revelation of the season. Not since Freddy Adu has US Soccer seen such a promising talent begin to mature at such a young age. The 17 year-old was on full display versus LA. Nominally, he started at the same position as Landon Donovan (outside right midfield), but there is a fascinating contrast in the way the two approach the position. Donovan is inevitably magnetized to the center of the pitch in order to play make with Juninho (which in turn, often leaves space for LA right fullback Franklin to make runs up the wing). Najar, on the other hand, plays the position like a traditional winger, streaming up and down the sideline like Michael Phelps in a swim lane. The entire DC offense, in fact, seemed to tilt into Najar’s offensive corner, as even his opposite winger, Quaranta, pushed toward the middle or up and out to the right. The diagram below demonstrates how the Najar-geared DC offense worked in the first half.

United's Formation

Ironically, it wasn’t until Najar broke out of his lane and ventured to the middle of the pitch in the second half that his talent showed fruition. With Hernandez and Quaranta pressing hard on keeper Ricketts, a rebound found Najar at the top of the 18 and he quietly rolled it into the corner.

The introduction of David Beckham for LA in the second half proved to be a game-changer, though not due directly to Beckham’s contributions (although I have to say I think his long balls are as precise as they have ever been). Coach Bruce Arena put Beckham into Donovan’s right midfield position and bumped Donovan up to a central striker. Critics of Donovan’s post World Cup performance will possibly come to see Donovan’s last twenty minutes of this match as a turning point, for he clearly found the spark that has fueled the successful stages of his career. Although Buddle hadn’t had a bad game up top, he had the same finishing trouble we saw in the World Cup, and also had his share of unexplainable turnovers. Donovan seemed to join him at forward for a finishing clinic as he dizzied the DC center backs to poke a ball loose and jog around the keeper Perkins (who had a wonderful game despite the score line) to bury the equalizer. He looked dangerous even when he wasn’t scoring, taking crosses from the likes of veteran Eddie Lewis (who subbed in second half), but the highlight came just minutes after his first goal when he headed a looping cross beautifully toward the far post for the winner. Welcome back Landon

Memo to Bob Bradley

Dear Bob,

Still have those “I don’t have a striker with ‘back of the net’ on his GPS” blues? Well, I have a revolutionary thought for you—you DO! Landon! Problem is, you, like the rest of us, thought maybe with his age and all he’d be better serving up from the midfield. But here’s the deal—you’ve got other great midfielders, so why not let the guy who can hit the broad side of a barn have a shot?

Food for thought

Speaking of midfielders, have you seen this Najar kid? WE HAVE. If he ever becomes a US citizen, please, please, please CAP him for USMNT before Honduras can. Yes, he’s young, but if you make him feel like a vested player over the next four years he could mature at the perfect time. That, and he could be exactly what you need to remedy your uh, how can I say this, fullback challenges. In my diagram below you’ll see exactly how Najar might fit into your squad.

Speaking of the squad. Look, we all love Oneywu. The day he signed with Milan our hearts burst with delight that an American could finally take part in a match-fixing scandal—and that maybe he could bring some real fashion wisdom back to the states. But the full recovery from his injury has yet to take place convincingly. There is, in fact, no sure sign he’ll ever get back to pre-injury form before the next World Cup, especially since he’s not getting minutes in Milan. Although we all hope whole-heartedly (in all seriousness, now) he completes a long and successful career that includes USMNT, we can’t count on it, and you need some other plans. Seen Omar Gonazalez? He’s big, steady, confident, great in the air, and even has a Pique-like tendency to look up and send penetrating passes up to his forwards. Please give him a shot. To remind you, I’ve included him in the attached “experimental lineup” for your next friendly. It’s kind of a 4-1-3-2.

Thanks Bob. Happy strategizing.

3 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Bradley's Receding Hairline says:

    I didn’t get a chance to see this game, but Quaranta/Najar should be a very good MLS wing combo for a couple of years.

    Kudos on the Shakespeare blurb on the front page

    • Blake Owen says:

      Of course, Najar could make a move to a bigger club. He’s certainly been impressive, though.

      I have to admit. I don’t really like Landycakes up top. As fierce as he may be, he’s still little. And as Lionel Messi learned this summer, there’s a lot more space on the wing.

      • bensten says:

        Point taken about little Landy. However, until Altidore, or somebody, starts finding net, I’d rather have a little goal scorer up there than a big target who doesn’t finish.

        Yes, it might be tough for DC to hold on to Najar over the next couple seasons.

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