LA Galaxy

How the Quakes Dominated the Cali Classico... Again by Anay Patel

In addition to being one of the most storied rivalries in MLS history, the California Classico has an extra flair to it in 2019. New San Jose manager Matias Almeyda played for and managed Argentinian giant River Plate, and new LA Galaxy manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto played for and managed their hated rival Boca Juniors. In addition to that, Almeyda managed Banfield for a period, the rival of Lanús, where Schelotto managed his first side. So on paper the coaching matchup should be about equal. In reality, it hasn’t been.

Following San Jose’s 3-0 win in the first edition of the 2019 California Clasico, LA Galaxy manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto and captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic dismissed the win, claiming that the scoreline was not reflective of the close nature of the match. After all, the Galaxy were missing key players Jonathan dos Santos and Uriel Antuna, who were away on Gold Cup duty. Earthquakes homegrown player Tommy Thompson was dismissive of the comments, remarking that “there’s always a scoreboard, after the game and it said 3-0.” For the rematch only two weeks later, the table was set for a very interesting tactical matchup between two new managers trying to implement their philosophy into their clubs. In actuality, Almeda’s side came out on top again, this time by a score of 3-1.

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Los Angeles Galaxy 2019 Season Preview by Harrison Crow

Undisputedly, last year was a disappointment... wait, I used that line already. Oh, well... this is pretty near the end of our “we probably should have made the playoffs but something went wrong” team previews fashion line. The Galaxy may have finally found the right management pieces but are they ready to lead the organization back to glory this season?

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Little Things from Week 22: A Healthy TFC, the Galaxy defense, and Adi's Farewell by Harrison Hamm

By Harrison Hamm (@harrisonhamm21)

Gregory Van Der Wiel and Toronto FC

Toronto FC started their 3-0 win over the Chicago Fire playing a 3-5-2, finally with their best players (Jozy Altidore, Justin Morrow, Victor Vazquez, Chris Mavinga) back. They played fairly well in the first 45 minutes, for the most part stopping Chicago’s attack and avoiding sloppy mistakes at the back. But it was still 0-0 at halftime.

All three goals came after Greg Vanney pulled wingback Ashtone Morgan for center midfielder Marky Delgado, switching the formation to a 4-4-2 diamond. With this change, they were able to get Jonathan Osorio on the ball in the attacking third (he scored the second goal) without sacrificing distribution deeper in the formation. Delgado could shuttle, Michael Bradley could stay home, and the fullbacks could hug the touchline.

Gregory Van Der Wiel, who was the right-sided center back in the first half and the right back in the second, had tried to fill the Delgado role from his center back position. It was an interesting tactical gamble from Vanney, who likely hoped that Van Der Wiel could step into midfield and let Osorio stay forward, keeping the various benefits that the 3-5-2 allows.

Van Der Wiel is an efficient passer — he completes seven percent more passes than expected, and his score is 56.2 — but he doesn’t break lines or distribute the way that Delgado does. Pushing defenders into roles like this is consistent with the Guardiola inverted full-backs trend, and it was a worthy experiment from Vanney. Credit for adjusting in the second half.

The Dutchman’s pass maps from each half (first half is on the left) reflect the change in tactical positioning:

Van Der Wiel 1st half

Van Der Wiel 1st half

Van Der Wiel 2nd half

Van Der Wiel 2nd half

TFC looked really good in the second half, as good as they’ve looked since the CCL final. Hard to say whether they can sustain it, but with their next two games at Atlanta and at home against NYCFC, they’ll have to.

The LA Galaxys defending

Excluding own goals, the LA Galaxy have given up 32 goals on 32.2 xGA, a below-average figure, if not at the futility level of MLS’s worst defending teams. They give up 14.4 shots per game, the worst of any current MLS playoff team.

There’s no doubt that the Galaxy’s defense is a prevalent weakness. No game passes without “what were they thinking” moments out of Michael Ciani and Jorgen Skjelvik.

They’ve settled on a 3-5-2 as their preferred formation, trading defensive solidity (they weren’t going to have much anyway, a known fact that probably went into the thought process) for attacking firepower. All four of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Giovani dos Santos, Ola Kamara and Romain Alessandrini can plausibly play together in this set-up, the only alignment that comes close to getting them all together.

They risked that alignment against LAFC and survived long enough to storm back in the last 10 minutes for a wacky 2-2 draw. They risked it again — albeit with Chris Pontius (a natural winger, of course) in for the suspended Alessandrini — on Sunday against Orlando, and they produced a 4-3 win that lacked any viable defending.

The game against Orlando revealed a lot of the Galaxy’s defensive weaknesses. They were often disorganized and struggled to put pressure on Orlando’s attackers around the box. Defending from the front was always going to be a problem for this LA team, and that major weakness only compounds weaknesses deeper in the formation. They looked a lot better after Servando Carrasco came on as a sub.

42 percent of Orlando’s attacks came down their left side, attacking right-sided center back Dave Romney. Central defenders in a three-at-the-back have to defend in space, meaning they have to possess some measure of athleticism. Romney doesn’t fit the bill. Mohamed El-Munir (usually a left back!) roasted Romney on numerous occasions:

Amidst all the defensive incompetence in Carson, they still managed to give up just 0.91 xG, per Ben Baer, though our model showed them giving up 1.54 xG. They also only gave up 1.61 xG to LAFC. They’re bad, even if recent numbers favor them, but the attack is sparing them a surplus of attacks to blunder.

Adi’s final Timbers goal and the value of emergency defense

As you’ve heard plenty about by now, Fanendo Adi scored in his final appearance as a Portland Timber. His goal proved the difference in a 2-1 Timbers win over the Dynamo, and it exposed more Dynamo defensive weakness:

Houston inexplicably played a five-at-the-back formation against the counter-attacking Timbers. (Wilmer Cabrera’s conservative nature is losing the Dynamo points.) Sebastian Blanco brilliantly dragged Adolfo Machado out of his center back position on this play, forcing wingback Andrew Wenger to step to Blanco and unlock a cheeky give-and-go between Blanco and Zarek Valentin.

Blanco’s first touch in the box was a bit sloppy and forced him to scramble, giving further advantage to the numbers-heavy Dynamo. They shouldn’t have let the Argentine through to begin with, but they had everyone marked by this point. No goal should have been scored from this position.

However, Machado went sliding in on Blanco and missed badly, allowing him time on the ball at the edge of the six-yard box. Blanco’s slip pass to Andy Polo pinged around until Adi managed to have the ball bounce off him into the net. An ugly goal if there ever was one. But emergency defense is a skill, and Houston have decidedly lack that skill.

Earl Edwards Jr. is a weekly starter

This save was lost in the Zlatan show, but Orlando’s Edwards Jr. made the best save of the week on Ola Kamara:

Getting the top-hand to that shot is difficult, and probably the only way he could have saved it. He’s taken Joe Bendik’s job and run with it.

That’s it for this week, check back again after the post-All-Star Game weekend

L.A. Galaxy 2017 Season Preview by Phil Luetchford

“Cozmo, do you take Giovani Dos Santos to be your lawfully wedded superstar, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until contract’s end do us part?”

“I do.”

“You may now high-five the superstar.”

The LA Galaxy’s 2017 season is married to Dos Santos’ performance.

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The LA Galaxy had an interesting off-season. It started with the release of Omar Gonzalez and Juninho, followed by the pursuit of Ashley "barely still plays soccer" Cole. The Galaxy took a lot of heat for this pursuit when it was reported they would be using TAM, but anger seems to have dissipated when it was announced that price was closer to 300k. In reality, people should still be getting angry that the Galaxy spent 300k on a 35 year old left back of questionable fitness, but the Galaxy narrative machine is simply too strong for such a reasoned fan reaction. 

The Galaxy further wasted their money on the head scratching signing of Jeff Larentowicz, who demands far more money than he is worth, free agent money on Mike Magee, despite having one of the most promising young talents in the country in Jose Villarreal providing cover at left mid and forward, and finally, paying high dollar for one of the most overrated keepers in MLS history

In their frenzy to blow their newly acquired cap space in the most inefficient way possible, the Galaxy actually managed to stumble their way into three key moves. The first was the signing of Emannuel Boateng, a promising young winger who has impressed in preseason. His speed and dribbling ability should offer a new facet to the Galaxy attack, although Sebastian Lletget is still projected as the starting left mid once he recovers from his groin injury.

The second was the use of TAM to acquire Jelle Van Damme from Standard Liege in Belgium. Van Damme is a physical defender who looks to be a real aerial presence and danger on set-pieces, and, for Galaxy fans, it’s best to keep the mind on his talents and not that time he called Oguchi Onyeywu a dirty monkey, which the Galaxy TOTALLY addressed by getting quotes from lots of people not named Jelle Van Damme about how that’s completely in the past.  (Fans somehow bought it because, again, the Galaxy narrative machine is all powerful).

More after the jump

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The 2011 Galaxy: Lucky, Good, or Both? by Sean Steffen

The 2011 LA Galaxy often gets credit for being the greatest Galaxy team of all time, and it’s certainly understandable why. They won the cup. They won the shield, and their ability to put games on defensive lockdown was legendary. 

23. That’s how many games the LA Galaxy were involved in in 2011 where the final point outcome was decided by a single goal. This means single goal wins, single goal losses and ties. That’s 68% of the entire season. Of those 23 games, the LA Galaxy won 12, tied 10 and lost only 1, acquiring 46 of the possible 69 points up for grabs. They couldn’t have been more clutch, which is why many (wrong) people consider them greater than the 2014 LA Galaxy team which was statistically superior in virtually every facet. The 2011 LA Galaxy simply took care of business.  

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Shot Limiting: Bringing the heat (maps) by Sean Steffen

Earlier this year, I decided the world needed a 30 page paper on shot limiting in MLS. Of course, the powers that be found this to be a tad self indulgent, and more accurately, sad that I had the time to do such a thing. They ended up talking me down to a slightly more readable 20 pages, which can be read here.

But my art will not be compromised, gosh darnit! There is still so much to be learned about this topic, and, more to the point, my obsession hadn’t been quenched. Several questions were raised within the paper that I simply didn’t have the necessary data to explore.

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ASA 2015 Season Previews. Every daNG one of them! by Drew Olsen

By Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)

In preparation for this weekend's games (they're actually happening!), we've been writing two team previews per day for the last two weeks. Going in reverse order of 2014 finish, ASA and our (very) small band of writers have published 20 articles, covering each team's 2014 season, their offseason changes, and their prospects for 2015. If you haven't read them all yet, AND WE KNOW YOU HAVEN'T, then you can catch up here.

Eastern Conference

Chicago Fire by Mike Fotopoulos
Columbus Crew by Harrison Crow
DC United by Jared Young
Montreal Impact by Harrison Crow
New England Revolution by Drew Olsen
New York City FC by Drew Olsen
New York Red Bulls by Harrison Crow
Orlando City by Harrison Crow
Philadelphia Union by Jared Young
Toronto FC by Jason Poon

Western Conference

Colorado Rapids by Harrison Crow
FC Dallas by Jason Poon
Houston Dynamo by Harrison Crow
LA Galaxy by Sean Steffen
Portland Timbers by Drew Olsen
Real Salt Lake by Matthias Kullowatz
San Jose Earthquakes by Tom Worville
Seattle Sounders by Harrison Crow
Sporting Kansas City by Matthias Kullowatz
Vancouver Whitecaps by Drew Olsen

2015 ASA Preview: LA Galaxy by Sean Steffen

*xG = expected goals, xA = expected assists, xGD = expected goal differential. For more information see our xGoals by Team page.

By Sean Steffen (@seansteffen)

With the retirement of Landon Donovan, the Galaxy have lost a player who in large part defined their identity. To say that the LA Galaxy are a team in flux is an understatement, which makes making predictions about next season a fool’s errand. But the fear of looking foolish has never been an adequate deterrent in my writing career, so let’s give this a shot. 

Let’s make no mistake about it: Landon Donovan was a chance creating God.  Last year 32.2% of the Galaxy’s total xG came from either a Donovan shot or pass. His stylistic impact on the team was perhaps even greater. This can be backed up by my own recent passing analysis of the team which can be read here

In short, I isolated two distinct buildup styles that the 2014 Galaxy employed to score and Donovan was involved in 75% of them. He was also the driving force behind the famed "Tiki-Taco" style of play which lead to Gyasi Zardes getting so many uncontested shots within the box, a phenomenon I wrote about here. Now that 75% is admittedly skewed somewhat by my methodology since my article was aimed more at analyzing style than overall number, however, if does show that Donovan either scored or was within four passes of a bare minimum of 39% of the Galaxy’s assisted non-set-piece goals.

It took a lot of math, but I think we've finally proven this Donovan fellow was pretty good at soccer. The obvious question becomes, who replaces him, and how does that effect the Galaxy’s xG numbers? This is a huge question mark because the Galaxy have played few preseason games and have rotated players at left mid to a point that it’s impossible to guess who will be starting. As of now, Bradford Jamieson IV looks to be Bruce’s pick to be the starting left mid on opening day (whenever that will be).  We have no data available on Jamieson, but his season in USL Pro last year suggests he will be a player that will contribute mainly by way of expected goal and will have few expected assists. Now, from a numbers standpoint, a goal is a goal, however, the expected goal numbers of an entire team fall when chance creation is depleted, which is a very real possibility for the Galaxy next year. 

Luckily for the Galaxy, however, their expected goal difference totals from last year were so great, that they actually have a considerable amount of xG to give, if the defense can remain consistent. I addressed this quite thoroughly in this article, but here is a key takeaway

Team Expected Goal differential per 90
2014 LA Galaxy 0.88
2014 Seattle 0.41
2012-2014 Avg. Supporters Shield Winner 0.28
2012-2014 Top of the West 0.34

The Galaxy somehow managed to lose the Supporters' Shield race last year despite a redonkulous xG differential. This is can be viewed as a cushion, of sorts, because it means that, with a bit more luck and better game management, the Galaxy can lose a lot of xG and still be a top team. Here are the quick hit points. 

From a numbers standpoint, the Galaxy could replace Donovan with a player that contributes 0 xG by way of shot or pass and would still have a 0.43 xG lead on the Supporters' Shield average over the course of a full season. If you apply the same neutral left mid scenario to the average for teams that finished top of the west over that period, the  Galaxy only fall under the western mark by 1.39xG. And finally, subtracting Donovan’s output last year still only puts the Galaxy 3.88 xG behind Seattle in xG differential. That’s a marginal difference, and one that can be easily overcome by a combination of Stefan Ishizaki shouldering more of the chance creation load, and the xG Bradford Jamieson IV brings to the table. 

There is also the matter of Steven Gerrard, who arrives in mid July, and will surely boost the Galaxy’s numbers; however, his impact on the Galaxy’s xG Differential numbers will probably be a bit more complex than him boosting xGF. History suggests that his addition might be at the expense of more shots against.  

You see, the data we have on the Galaxy is interesting. The first year available is from the famous 2011 team, who many consider to be the greatest MLS team of all time. Of the four total years of data, we have two years in the Beckham era and two years in the post Beckham era. During the Beckham years, the Galaxy played a lethal brand of counter-attack soccer. In the years following Beckham, the Galaxy became an elite possession team. Over the four years of data, the Galaxy won three MLS cups, but by using two very distinct styles of soccer. 

Why do I even bring this up? The data clearly shows that the Galaxy’s defense improved by leaps and bounds in the post Beckham years. This may come as a shock to some, as the 2011 LA Galaxy team is generally regarded as one of the best defensive sides of all time, sporting a goals against average of 0.79 a game,  however, the data suggests that the Galaxy’s goals against numbers were anomalous that year. 

Now I do not know if this jump in improvement is related more to tactics or personnel, since Beckham wasn't exactly the best defender, but I can say with much confidence that the Galaxy were simply a better defensive team post Beckham. 

Let’s dive into the data and look at goals against average.

As you can see above, the Galaxy’s goals against average has consistently been well below that of the conference for three of the four years.  The problem, however, is that the xGoals against data shows that the 2011 Galaxy’s numbers may be a bit of an outlier. From an xG standpoint, there is a very clear distinction between the Beckham and post Beckham years.  Take a look.

The very same thing can be said for shots against. 

Well what about shot leverage? That is, the positions of the field he Galaxy are giving up shots. Has that remained constant?

At first glance, yes, despite the varying levels of shot volume faced. 

Metric 2011 2012 2013 2014
Avg Shot Leverage against 0.095 0.104 0.09 0.093
Shots Against 408 439 326 348

The problem, however, is if you plot it against league averages, the Galaxy during the Beckham era were giving up shots of leverage consistent with the rest of the league. Over a four year span, shot leverage has climbed league wide, however, in the post Beckham years, the average shot leverage given up by the Galaxy was in decline.

The Beckham years saw a very defensively oriented Galaxy team. Ironically, however, it is the post Beckham years that have yielded the best defensive numbers (ignoring the anomalous goals against totals of 2011 for the reasons shown above.)

This is in large part thanks to the staggering decrease in the number of shots the Galaxy give up. Now some of this probably correlates to possession, however, if you look at the Goals 3.0 table, you’ll find that possession is a poor corollary to shots against. In fact, there isn't a stat listed on that page that isn't.

Now, perhaps buried deep in the numbers is a great explanation as to why certain teams are so good at limiting shots, however, I would postulate that it is in large part tactical and linked to how many men you have tracking back.

If I am correct in this assumption, then I feel that the Galaxy will continue to dominate MLS in terms of giving up the least number of shots next year, at least until the arrival of Gerrard, as their shape and general personnel make up hasn't changed. Yes they lost Marcelo Sarvas, but Baggio Husidic is a player who tracks back just as much and makes as many tackles.

Of course, when Gerrard arrives, it’s anybody’s guess how the Galaxy will utilize him. Bruce has stated that he wants him closer to goal, which seems to rule out the possibility that we see Gerrard play in the role of deep-lying playmaker which we saw David Beckham play so well. This could suggest that the Galaxy’s xGA numbers will not rise above the totals we saw in the Beckham years, and the same can probably be said for shots.

While Gerrard still has some legs in him and still averages about three defensive actions a game, his ability to get back into the Galaxy’s shape will probably be less than whoever it is he replaces in the lineup. This means that the Galaxy probably will give up more shots against per game after he arrives. This more than likely means higher xG against, and higher goals against, but again, not as high as the Beckham years.

In other words, the Galaxy data during the Gerard era may fall about halfway in-between the 2012 and 2013 numbers.   

How it Happened: Week Ten by Drew Olsen

Another weekend, another bunch of ones and zeroes on the scoreboards for the games I checked out. The season's a quarter done now for just about every team, and reality is starting to set in that playoffs are only going to be a dream for some this year. Still, MLS is a league of incredible parity and almost everyone still harbors dreams of the postseason, no matter how realistic they are at the moment.

Portland Timbers 1 - 1 LA Galaxy

Stat that told the story for both teams: 2 goals, 1 uncalled red card on a breakaway in 2nd half stoppage time


It's nearly impossible to analyze this game without spending a bulk of your attentions on second half stoppage time, when both goals were scored. Not only that, but LA's Juninho had a breakaway chance to put the game away and was bundled over with no foul called. All in all, it was a pretty incredible conclusion to a game that was fairly entertaining, if not particularly well-played. To some degree, it was more of the same for both teams: the Galaxy struggled to finish the chances they were able to create, and Portland looked out of sorts and a little slow compared to last year's high-octane outfit.

I want to spend a paragraph here talking a little about the apparent tactical trends of the league at the moment. For the last couple years, it seemed like the formation en vogue was the high-pressing 4-3-3: Kansas City and Portland were the most notable success stories using this setup. But this year, it appears the trend has shifted to the 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, a la Real Salt Lake. It seems like every team in the league has at least experimented with it this year, from LA to Colorado to DC. The March to the Match podcast did a great feature on this tactical trend a few weeks back detailing some of the pros and cons of the formation.

Anyway, this game seemed like a pretty decent case study with these two formations facing off with one another: Portland's 4-3-3 against LA's diamond midfield. It's my opinion that the narrow diamond midfield does a great job of neutralizing what made the Timbers' 4-3-3 so effective last year - that's part of why RSL just seemed to have Caleb Porter's number last year. Portland was at their best last year mainly because of two guys: Diego Chara and Will Johnson, who played as a double pivot and covered more ground than the Trans-Pacific Railroad. However, the Galaxy's narrow midfield boxes that double pivot in with four central mids who are all tucked inside, limiting the number of balls Chara & Johnson can win and thereby limiting Portland's possession. There are plenty of other reasons the Timbers haven't been great so far this year, but it's a trend worth watching as they try to turn their season around.

Columbus Crew 0 - 1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Stat that told the story for Columbus: 90.33% of minutes this season have been played by starting eleven

It's no secret that Columbus started out this season like gangbusters and have since played more like busts. The reason for this is inherently simple: they only have one way of playing. Every single game from Columbus is basically the same: they play the same guys in the same roles and try the same things. It caught teams by surprise in the first few games, but now that the opposition knows what's coming (short passes out of the back, fullbacks getting way forward, etc.) it's gotten a lot easier to beat. And now it's up to coach Gregg Berhalter to make some adjustments and at least give the Crew a plan B so this losing skid doesn't continue.

Stat that told the story for Vancouver: average age of midfield and forward: 23 years old

Vancouver has sneakily been one of the surprise stories of the 2014 MLS season. Everyone knew they had a good deal of young talent on the squad, but nobody was sure how the chemistry would work out under first-year coach Carl Robinson. So far, returns have been impressive. Not only has Robinson set the team up in a position to be successful tactically, but he's handed over a ton of responsibility to the youngsters to great effect. With veterans Kenny Miller gone and Nigel Reo-Coker perhaps on the way out, even more of the load is going to be heaped onto the 25-and-under players. During this victory, the only midfielder or forward in the starting eleven over 25 was Pedro Morales (28). And even when they made subs, they brought on 20-year-old Omar Salgado and 21-year-old Russell Teibert - I'd say the future is bright in Vancouver.

Philadelphia Union 0 - 1 DC United

Stat that told the story for DC: wide presence of the forwards



It's interesting that a lot of season previews of DC United focused on if the wide play would be good enough to get quality service for new striker Eddie Johnson. I say this because DC has been as good, if not better, as anyone could've hoped, despite the presence of roughly zero wide midfielders and zero Eddie Johnson goals. There are obviously a few reasons they've been so good, but chiefly among them is that this is Fabian Espindola's team. He's played better this season than I ever remember him looking in Salt Lake as the focal point of United's attack, orchestrating everything and creating a lot of chances. He does this by floating to the wide areas of the field to provide some width to DC's narrow formation, as his heat map above shows (EJ's actually pretty good at this too, particularly when holding the ball up).

Stat that told the story for Philadelphia: 647,428 times caught ball-watching this season*

Philadelphia was everyone's darling in the first few weeks of the season. All their new acquisitions looked really impressive, they had a young and improving defense and some talent up top that was sure to start banging in the goals soon. Fast forward a couple months, and the bottom has fallen out. This loss was their ninth game without a win, they've switched formations like four times hoping for a spark, and their coach might get fired soon. So what's wrong? Lots of things. But #1 in my book is simply that the Union didn't seem that interested in playing soccer against DC this weekend. I can't tell you how many times I've seen Philly midfielders or defenders or really anyone just watch an opposing player run by them or pass the ball by them with little to no contesting. And this isn't a problem for one or two players, it's the entire team. Sorry to be such a rah-rah coach type who says they just need to try harder, but the Union need to be more active, or engaged, or try harder....whatever wording works best.

*this is only an approximation because I couldn't find Opta's information on this