The LA Galaxy Half-Season Report Card
Posted on June 20, 2011 3:11 pm
So LA Galaxy have passed the halfway point in their season early, due to a highly congested schedule.
In general, there is plenty to be happy about. Top of the league, with a greater Points-Per-Game average than any other team, it would surprise some that this team is drawing criticism.
The most notable issue has been a failure to close out games. Too many times this season, LA have had three points in the bag and thrown them away. This all points to issues in attack and that appears to be the case. The front line is simply not scoring enough goals. There is solid contribution from the midfield which is making up for that right now, but it’s an uneasy situtation for some.
Personally, beyond the attacking issues, I have nothing but praise for the team. LA have progressed from a counter-attacking team to one which is now oriented around possession. The already-strong defence continues to get better and better. Despite the forward issues, the team has only been shut-out twice.
Some also present Galaxy’s top spot as potentially unreliable as they have played more games than any other team. To that I say, only Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia could mathematically overtake LA on points after playing all games in hand (each has five) and they’d have to gain at least 13 pts (4 wins and a draw) to make that happen.
Another thing that too few people have taken note of is that LA Galaxy have risen to this position despite having a heavily congested schedule, which included a couple of three-games-in-a-week road trips. Also, if you’re going to be cynical and say that LA have more wins because they’ve simply played more games, you also have to consider the other side of the coin: despite playing more games than any other team, they’re tied for the fewest losses (2 games, with New York).
So overall, a positive start, but with room for improvement regarding finishing off opponents and goal production from the strikers. B+
Ricketts (GK) – A-
Generally as steady as ever. There’s been the occasional gaffe, but he’s been far more productive in delivering clean sheets than in costing them. Not always perfect, but mostly excellent as usual.
Franklin (RB) – B
Solid, but relatively unspectacular so far. His defending has generally been in keeping with his usual high standard, however his forward game has been more erratic this term, especially with regard to his end product. Still arguably the best fullback in MLS, but we know he’s capable of more.
Gonzales (CB) – A
The ability that has been there since day one remains and his technical weaknesses are diminishing. His distribution from the back is like night and day from his first two seasons. This has improved his confidence on the ball, making him increasingly assured in possession. He has also become a greater goal-threat. Most importantly though, his intelligence on the field is getting better and better. In his first season, he followed Berhalter’s lead. In his second, with his mentor injured for a long spell, he made more mistakes. This season he’s learned to stand alone and is flourishing for it.
DeLaGarza (CB/LB) – B+
Following the season-ending injury of Leonardo, AJ finds himself starting as a center-back currently, reuniting the successful Maryland defensive tandem with Gonzales. If he were half a foot taller, he’d be a monster in the heart of defence. As it is, his diminutive stature is his only weakness there. He’s been predictably beaten in the air on a number of occasions this season. Apart from that unfortunate shortcoming, he marks well, reads the game and is as good on the ball as any other defender in the league. When the ball is on the deck, he’s as effective as they come. However, his future surely lies in a fullback or wingback role, where only experience separates him from Dunivant and Franklin.
Dunivant (LB) – A-
His role in this team reminds me of Manchester United great Dennis Irwin. Perhaps not in terms of talent, but certainly in terms or reliability. To the casual observer, he isn’t doing anything spectacular. However, he is a dependable rock in LA’s defence. Rarely making errors, often assured and calm in his decision making and an experienced leader in a young backline, Dunivant has been key to Galaxy’s increasingly settled defence this term.
Donovan (LW/RW/ACM/FWD) – A-
The eternal “go to” guy for this team. The exhaustion he suffered after last season’s World Cup and the struggles Galaxy endured during the same period, outline exactly how much of a key component he is. Despite the occasional lacklustre display, he has been far closer to his best this term and prior to heading off to the Gold Cup, once again took the reigns by scoring goal after goal. He now stands at eight for the season, making him by far the team’s most productive attacking outlet – and this despite playing largely on the wing.
Beckham (CM/RM)- C+
The love/hate relationship continues, fuelled by overseas obligations or distractions, depending on your view point. While the good has outweighted the bad, this has been a wildly mixed bag in terms of performances. His opening day performance in Seattle was attrocious – the worst I’ve ever seen from the player – raising questions over the value of his much-discussed off-season training with Tottenham. However, Beckham has also produced some of his best football for the Galaxy in the last few months and is looking more cohesive with his teammates than ever. His assist production has been vital in helping spread the scoring burden throughout the squad. The fire and determination to do well is also in evidence on the field. While his legs are noticably heavier these days, he still runs his heart out. There is the infamous downside to this: mistimed to outright reckless challenges, on top of heated confrontations with match officials have seen the yellow cards pile up early. Seems to have recently settled into more consistent form after an erratic start to the season.
Juninho (CM) – B+
In just a year, Juninho has matured into a key starter for LA Galaxy. Technically sound and increasingly strong in terms of positioning, vision and decision-making, when fit the 21 year old is routinely one of the first names on the teamsheet. In general, he has enjoyed a more consistent season than anybody outside the defence. Starting the season with two wondergoals in two games, it’s his ball retention and distribution that is his real strength. His one flaw at this point is that in the few games where it hasn’t come together for him, he’s been almost entirely anonymous, hence his downgraded rating.
Birchall (CM/RM)- C+
Birchall’s time in MLS has been dogged by inconsistency. Sometimes one of the best players on the field, other times mediocre. He’s continued that form this year. Tends to be more solid as a defensive midfielder than a winger, though has had good and bad games in both positions. Finally got his first goal against Toronto.
Barrett (FWD) – C
Let’s start with the positives. Some of Chad Barrett’s build-up play is very reasonable. For a journeyman forward, his technical level is more than adequate, though his first touch can be heavy on occasion. When it comes to positioning and finding space in the box, he’s exemplary. The negative: I don’t know if I’ve seen a more nervous finisher in my entire life. He’s one of those forwards who has a better chance to score if he has little time to think about his opportunity. When he has time to second guess himself, 9 times out of 10, you may as well forget about it.
Angel – D
Unfortunately, LA’s third DP has been a huge flop thus far. It appears that age really did catch up with him last season. If he was on the same payscale as Barrett or Magee, he’d be frustrating. The fact that he’s occupying a lucrative Designated Player slot is nothing short of a disaster. The quality of play from Miguel Lopez and Chad Barrett has been enough to force JPA from a starter to a three-man rotation. The scary part is that neither of those two players have been that good. His lack of legs means he struggles to lose markers, struggles to get to balls that aren’t played smack-bang into his feet or head and in the majority of games he’s been flat-out ineffective. You have to feel bad for him, because this is a player who wants to do well, but unfortunately appears to genuinely be finished at this level.
Magee (FWD/LM) - C-
Magee has played mainly as a wide left midfielder this season, falling back from his usual striking position. Generally, this has resulted in a more effective spell. He’s no playmaker, however he does have an assured technique and his contribution to maintaining possession has been useful. Unfortunately, his game still lacks hustle. This manifests itself when it comes to situations like challenging for 50/50 balls or making decisions in the attacking third. All too often, he will look for a safe pass instead of taking the initiative. While it’s often a little better to err on the side of caution, Magee has a tendency to take that a step too far and can be accused at times of passing the responisbility.
Lopez (FWD/LM/RM) - C+
We’ve seen in spells what Miguel Lopez might have to offer longterm. He possesses solid dribbling skill and isn’t afraid to take a shot. He also appears calm and measured when it comes to link-up play. Like many newcomers to the MLS, he is in the process of adapting to the physical style and is not quite the finished article. Injuries to Cristman and the underperformance of Angel has seen this player employed as a forward, when he appears more at home on the flank. Not the finished article, but an interesting prospect.
Saunders (GK) - B+
Given the number of expansion drafts that have occurred in recent seasons, it’s somewhat confusing that Josh Saunders is still second string at LA Galaxy. His ability is such that he could and probably should be a starter for a number of MLS teams. As it is, he stands in my view, as the best back-up keeper in the league and his performances in Ricketts’ absence continue to support that.
Cardozo (ACM/LM/RM) – C-
Paolo Cardozo was productive in pre-season and has shown flashes of natural talent and creativity during the season. Similar to Lopez, he looks to have potential. However, he’s still slightly behind his countryman and Quilmes teammate in terms of overall development. An enthusiastic performer, but needs to work on his positional game and be more intelligent with the ball.
Leonardo (CB) – B-
After a significant spell in the heart of defence Leonard has seen his season end prematurely through injury. His general performances prior to that could be described as 90% great, with a fatal 10% catastrophic. Too many times this season, he has defended brilliantly for the vast majority of the game, but ruined it with an impromptu lack of concentration that has too often resulted in a goal. If he can get healthy and get over that, he has a solid future.
Jordan (RB/RW) – D+
The enthusiasm, energy and workrate of Bryan Jordan is such that one feels bad for being critical of him. He truly is a player who does the best he can with what he has. Sadly, aside from astounding pace, he doesn’t have too much. His role generally seems to be that of a late sub who comes on to be an energetic nuisance, or to lift his teammates with his infectious enthusiasm. One has to feel though, that as the MLS progresses and improves, players like Bryan Jordan will ultimately fall by the wayside.
Cristman (FWD) & Berhalter (CB)- n/a
Both players have received minimal minutes due to injury, but have not had long enough on the field to assess and impact.