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What’s Wrong with the LA Galaxy?

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While the LA Galaxy are still in a much stronger position than they were at any point last year, the recent loss to LAFC has many wondering where the great form from the beginning of the season has gone.
Could it be the coaching, the players, or might it just be a matter of time before the Galaxy resume performing to expectations?

Last Saturday, April 6th, the Los Angeles Galaxy lost 2-1 to Los Angeles Football Club in the twenty-second edition of El Tráfico. After a start to the campaign where they led their conference and were among the two best teams in the entire league in terms of goal-scoring, the attack stood out as an especially weak point in an entirely unimpressive performance for the Galaxy.

It is worth framing this with the context that the LA Galaxy could only count on one (1) natural center back for this match. With Eriq Zavaleta, Martin Cáceres, and Jalen Neal all out with injuries at the time, Head Coach Greg Vanney was forced to pull someone out of position to fill in.

Defensive midfielder Edwin Cerillo drew the short straw and lined up as Maya Yoshida’s center-back partner against LAFC. Although it was clear to Galaxy fans that Cerillo was a fish out of the water, opposing fans may be forgiven for assuming all was fine in Galaxy Land as a result of Cerillo’s solid performance.

Clearly, a solid substitute defender is not to blame for the Galaxy’s failure in this match. It seems there is no excuse for the attacking unit, who, for the first time this season, failed to at least match their opponent in terms of goal production. 

In attack, the Galaxy’s front line often looked like a front five or even a front six at times. Forwards Gabriel Pec, Dejan Joveljic, and Joseph Paintsil received plenty of support, but that may have done more harm than good.

As he’s done all season long so far, Mark Delgado frequently ventured extremely deep into the attacking third on the right-hand side. With both of the Galaxy’s fullbacks playing more conservatively in this game, Delgado often played as a second winger, overlapping with Gabriel Pec or whoever was in that role to exploit spaces in those wide areas. 

On the left side of the pitch, Julian Aude showed off his youthful energy by relentlessly getting up and down the pitch. Unfortunately, his overlapping runs were some of the deepest and most threatening from any Galaxy forward in that match. 

To top off the smorgasbord of attackers, Riqui Puig would bounce between the midfield and the final third, becoming the Galaxy’s sixth offensive player.

With so much congestion in their typical office space, the Galaxy’s actual forwards hardly had spaces available for them to take up. After taking up a position in either wing, Designated players Pec and Paintsil were often static as any run they tried would have taken them into an already occupied space. 

Unless they were found quickly during the transition, neither Pec nor Paintsil got the chance to chase down a long ball and show their pace or ability to threaten the goal from behind.

It can be said that service to them was lacking, but a deeper look reveals exactly why that was.

Riqui Puig often found himself in the pocket, ready to make a pass, but would look up to see not a single one of his preferred targets showing or making a dangerous run for him to find. This would frustrate Riqui, making him feel obligated to try and force progressive passes or hold onto the ball for too long. Where every other player on the pitch was averaging two touches per possession, Puig was averaging between five to seven.

In short, Riqui Puig was struggling to find passes, and the Galaxy’s forwards were struggling to find the ball. 

Puig is making a lot of high-profile mistakes but he is not the root of the Galaxy’s struggles so far. Riqui struggles when he can’t form partnerships in attack with his teammates, and right now, the whole team is struggling to build connections with new teammates. 

While these things can always be improved, the Galaxy isn’t suffering due to poor management or poor performance from individuals. It goes without saying that both the manager and players should be holding themselves accountable, and they have a responsibility to continuously improve. Still, the team is struggling as a result of growing pains and their consequences, not inadequate personnel. 

Although it will take time, maybe even a whole season, Gabriel Pec, Joseph Paintsil, and Riqui Puig will learn how to get the best out of each other; once they do, we will see fewer static wingers, fewer poor decisions from Riqui Puig, and much more goals.

The MLS season requires that these boys do their learning fast, as their next fixture doesn’t promise an easier challenge. On Saturday, April 13th, the LA Galaxy will travel to Vancouver to face the new current Western Conference leaders.

The Vancouver White Caps have been having an incredibly strong start to the season. Having played one game less than the Galaxy, they have scored the same number of goals (14) but have conceded nearly half as many (6 goals to the Galaxy’s 11).

With another week of training under their belts, the LA Galaxy have had some time to work on themselves and hopefully strengthen their bond.
Whether or not the players and manager make the right calls tonight, they must reconnect in front of the goal and find their joy once again, or risk falling further behind the top spot.

Photo: LA Galaxy

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