Home Galaxy The LA Galaxy Defense: Moved by Youth, Built Upon Experience

The LA Galaxy Defense: Moved by Youth, Built Upon Experience

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Will Kuntz and Greg Vanney are building a backline with an excellent mix of youth and experience.
Is a diverse age group what the Galaxy has been missing?

Soccer is a game that’s all about scoring more than you concede.

The LA Galaxy have rarely struggled too much in the goal-scoring department, but preventing the ball from going into their own net continues to be a challenge.

One of Will Kuntz’s main objectives since joining the Galaxy in 2023 has been restructuring an incredibly leaky and poorly constructed backline. Last year’s season-ending injuries to Martin Cáceres and Jalen Neal derailed the campaign, but they also revealed one of the defense’s greatest assets: their mix of young and inexperienced players.

Cáceres and Neal’s absence proved how one of the best ways to extract the maximum performance out of a backline can be by using players with varied levels of experience.

There seems to be a sort of tradeoff that exists for defensive players throughout their careers. They begin their professional lives as quick, energetic players whose bodies move faster than their minds, making them susceptible to mistakes. As time passes and they become more experienced, they tend to become slower, weighed down by the same knowledge that allows them to see the game like never before.

Youth without experience is about as useful as an arrow without a bow, and experience without energy is like a bow without an arrow: without proper examples of both, neither can be successfully applied to its intended purpose.

Will Kuntz showed which part of the bow he felt the Galaxy were in more dire need of when he joined by signing the most recent Japanese National Team World Cup Captain Maya Yoshida, during his very first transfer window in charge. This move was backed up in the following window by the acquisition of Miki Yamane, an experienced right back who played with Maya in the World Cup and won it all a few times over in Japan. 

These moves immediately raised the standard of the Galaxy’s backline. At the time of their signings, both Yoshida and Yamane were just one year past the jaw-dropping World Cup run, which saw Japan beat and eliminate the mighty Spain from their group. The duo proved that they absolutely still have what it takes to compete and win at the world’s most elite level and Kuntz knew that’s the sort of level he wanted for his defense.

While Yoshida and Yamane both have a wealth of experience and knowledge of the game, it is clear that their main function is much more didactic than it is physical or even tactical. In other words, they were signed for what they can teach others rather than what their bodies can give on the pitch.

Now, this isn’t to say that either player is ‘washed’ or incapable of putting in a proper shift. The opposite is true, especially in Yamane’s case, who has looked active in every game, often traveling high into the midfield and in wide areas before dropping back into position on countless occasions every game, rarely needing a sub. 

On the other side of the age spectrum lies Jalen Neal, who is probably one of the most apt examples of the type of first-team quality young player that every team would love to have.

At 20 years old, Neal is full of intangibles that make players like him so desirable: boundless energy, limitless potential, and an incessant drive to make the most of the relatively long amount of time he has left in his career when compared to players like Maya Yoshida. 

His gradual return to the squad offers a reprieve from the demands of a long campaign for older players like Martin Cáceres and Maya Yoshida.

Further relief has also just arrived from Colombia, adding even more arrows to the Galaxy’s quiver of young defenders.

Carlos Emiro Gárces arrived at Dignity Health Sports Park for the first time yesterday, Thursday, May 2nd, after being purchased from Deportivo Pereira on a five-year deal. At 22 years old, Gárces has already become a major part of a successful top-division side, helping Pereira maintain their place at the top of Colombia’s Categoria Primera A during his time there.

Highlight reels show Gárces as a player who is quick in recovery but also brave and impressively controlled for his age when pressing up the pitch. 

Last Saturday’s loss against Austin FC exposed how Yoshida and Cáceres can sometimes be liabilities when starting together due to their relative lack of pace. The Galaxy’s defensive core now has a satisfying balance of established veterans and exciting youngsters that seems to promise much more security with Jalen Neal and Carlos Gárces now part of the rotation (Vanney has confirmed Gárces will be available for selection for the next game).

The LA Galaxy now looks to have a much more complete backline.

Greg Vanney has multiple experienced and younger options in every defensive position and may find that choosing a lineup will be difficult moving forward, not because of a lack of decent options but an excess of them. Fans will be able to judge for themselves whether or not both age sets are able to combine efficiently enough to help remediate the Galaxy’s defensive weaknesses in the upcoming match against the Seattle Sounders. 

The Galaxy have counted on out-scoring rather than out-defending their rivals. The Galaxy’s youngsters and especially Carlos Emiro Gárces, may be forced into a trial by fire away against a Sounders team who loves to show up at home against the Galaxy as they will travel to Lumen field without Riqui Puig or Dejan Joveljic as a result of suspension and injury.

How much better equipped the Galaxy’s defense is now may be revealed this Sunday, May 5th, at 3:45 PM PST.
Jalen Neal looks more primed for his first start in almost a year, and Emiro Gárces will travel with the team and be available to make his debut in blue, white, and gold.

PHOTO: LA Galaxy

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