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Galaxy Beat Vancouver and Go Top Before Hosting San Jose

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The Los Angeles Galaxy went away to Vancouver and claimed the top spot of the Western Conference with a 3-1 road win.
They return to Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday, when they take on the San Jose Earthquakes for the second time this season.

On Saturday, April 13th, the LA Galaxy visited Western Conference leaders Vancouver Whitecaps, knocking them off the top spot with an impressive 3-1 win.

The 2-1 loss to LAFC seems like a long time ago, as Greg Vanney’s team has returned to winning ways.

As opposed to the match against LAFC, during which the Galaxy’s entire front five failed to establish any kind of rhythm together, the attacking unit seemed to be firing on all cylinders up in Canada.

The symptoms of that forgettable performance in Los Angeles were addressed in the match against Vancouver, with the biggest change being Martin Cáceres’s return to the starting 11.

With Cáceres back in defense, the LA Galaxy were able to return to a much more comfortable style of play. Greg Vanney also made some changes that allowed his forwards to find more joy in playing together.

Rather than have each of his designated players isolated on either wing, Vanney encouraged Joseph Paintsil and Gabriel Pec to play close together, overloading their rival’s left-hand side. This shift in positioning allowed all three DPs to play off of each other as they looked to break down Vancouver’s defense.

Paintsil, Pec, and Riqui Puig seemed to enjoy this change, as it didn’t take long for them to link up and create some stunning plays. They all combined with consistent midfield soldiers Gaston Brugman and Mark Delgado in the 10th minute to create a play capped off by a 360-degree turn by Paintsil to evade three defenders and slip in Gabriel Pec in space. Coming in on the right-hand side of the attack, Pec took a couple of neat touches before releasing a great effort with his favorite left foot, forcing an excellent save out of Yohei Takoaka.

With the support of the midfield and plenty of overlapping runs from fullbacks Julian Aude and Miki Yamane, the LA Galaxy held onto 60% of possession against Vancouver and generated 13 chances. While Vancouver was efficient with their possession, creating 6 more shots while seeing less of the ball, the Galaxy created the best-quality looks.

After a testy first half, both sides began exchanging blows in the second. The Galaxy struck first as Joseph Paintsil created another excellent chance for Pec in the 56th minute. The Brazilian’s shot was saved again, but this time, the rebound fell to a well-positioned Dejan Joveljic, who scored his sixth of the year.

The Whitecaps found their equalizer in the 77th minute by exploiting the same weakness nearly every other team has this year: set pieces. Ryan Gauld’s corner found the head of Brian White, who had been Vancouver’s most significant threat up to that point. 

Fortunately, Joseph Paintsil and Riqui Puig continued making early pushes for the MVP race, as each of their fantastic performances and goal contributions was definitive in avoiding another draw for the Galaxy. 

Puig assisted Paintsil with an excellent through ball for the Galaxy’s second goal in the 80th minute before repeating the trick to allow Paintsil to make the square pass, secure himself, and assist, while Diego Fagundez scored to become the only active player with 70 goals and 70 assists in MLS.

Despite the revival in attack, the Galaxy were still unable to mend one of their most pressing issues: defending from set pieces. On the latest episode of the Corner of the Galaxy Podcast, Greg Vanney asserted that the issue has been “finding the right balance between who we have in the zone and who needs to be marking.” 

It seems the Galaxy struggle with clearly defining their marking assignments on set pieces, causing players to lose their markers and allowing opposing attackers to easily header. Far too often, Galaxy players have been left shrugging and looking at each other as if to ask, “Who was guarding him?”  after conceding from a dead-ball situation.

Vanney also revealed that efforts to prevent such confusion are underway.

“This week [the Galaxy] isolated some guys into some marking situations just to work on marking and wrestling to get our spots… I’m confident that we can find a solution to a steady team defensively on set pieces.”

While it is definitely reassuring to hear that the problem and potential solutions have been identified, only Sunday’s performance will reveal if Vanney’s diagnosis was apt. 

Tomorrow, the LA Galaxy will host northern California rivals San Jose Earthquakes for the second time already this season. The Galaxy beat San Jose 3-1 at Paypal Park in the year’s first edition of this fixture on March 2nd and will look to improve by maintaining a clean sheet in the return leg.

LA Galaxy vs San Jose Earthquakes kicks off on Sunday, April 21st at 5:30 PM PST.

Photo: LA Galaxy

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