LA 1 – Seattle 0: LA Presses to Victory, Again

The 2011 MLS campaign kicked off with LA and Seattle attempting to reverse their fortunes from the last time they met. In November, the Galaxy knocked Seattle out of the playoffs behind high pressing and the set pieces of David Beckham.

Los Angeles’ Strategy

LA manager Bruce Arena attempted a strategy few managers utilize when using a 4-4-2. He had his team press high up the pitch.

Most squads that use this strategy (Barcelona and Arsenal are the most prominent) employ three central midfielders. The extra man in the middle allows them to maintain possession after winning the ball back.

The starting lineups

LA, with only two center midfielders, didn’t have this luxury. To combat this weakness forward Mike Magee dropped into the midfield to participate in build-up play. But even his presence wasn’t enough to allow LA to fully replicate a traditional high-pressing side. As a result, Arena tended to pick his spots, only instructing his team to press during key moments.

During one such moment, Juninho’s pressure forced Erik Friberg into an ill-advised pass that was picked off by Todd Dunivant. The left back pushed forward and found a charging Juninho, whose run wasn’t tracked by Seattle’s defenders. Juninho’s bullet of a shot beat Kasey Keller (58th).

Seattle’s Strategy

Seattle’s formation was almost a mirror image of LA’s. Like the Galaxy, they used a base 4-4-2 that at times seemed like a 4-4-1-1. In their case, Freddy Montero was the striker dropping into midfield. Even the outside midfielders were similar. On the left, Steve Zakuani used his speed to burst past defenders while on the right Alvaro Fernandez preferred guile to pace. Their styles closely replicated those of Donovan and Beckham.

Manager Sigi Schmid’s formation differed from Arena’s in one way. Center midfielders Friberg and Osvaldo Alonso had more defined roles than Juninho and Chris Birchall. Friberg took on the creative load. Alonso assumed increased defensive responsibilities.

Adjustments

The 4-5-1 LA used to close out the game was just good enough to ensure the full 3 points.

The only change made at half was Arena flip-flopping Donovan and Beckham. The LA gaffer felt Donovan’s speed and technical ability would help pin back Zakuani. Since much of Seattle’s threat came from the right, the move paid off in that sense. However, the change effectively neutered Beckham’s crossing ability. Beckham was forced to cut inside before unleashing his patented right-foot. This slight delay gave Seattle’s defenders just enough time to place themselves in positions to stop Beckham’s deliveries.

Neither manager made substitutions until after the goal, and even then Schmid only made like-for-like substitutions. Arena did shake up his squad in the 75th and 78th minutes.

The introduction of Michael Stephens for Magee and Jovan Kirovski for Chad Barrett turned LA’s 4-4-2 into a 4-5-1. Instead of pursuing Seattle into their half, LA waited for the Sounders to advance before closing off passing lanes. The move probably wasn’t as successful as Arena would have liked. Seattle benefitted from the extra time and space, picking out a number of dangerous crosses and forcing Josh Saunders to stop a handful of shots. But with the end result in the Galaxy’s favor, Arena won’t be complaining too much. Though he’ll walk away with the impression his team is more comfortable playing defense in their opponent’s half.

Not a comforting thought for the rest of the league.

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

    I want to see what Arena does when Angel is available. Will he stay with the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 or go to 1-striker system? I’d think the latter would allow from better pressing.

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