The 2011 Major League Soccer season opened with a rainy affair at Qwest Field. The LA Galaxy got the best of Seattle in this meeting, 0-1, to christen a new season in front of a national audience.
While ESPN’s coverage claimed 4-4-2’s for both teams, in reality Seattle fielded what was more of a three forward set, with Steve Zakuani and Fredy Montero playing wingers and O’Brien White the center forward. Fernandez played more of a shuttler’s role, centrally focused while defending, then providing the most width on the attack.
For LA, their 4-4-2 did not feature new signee Juan Pablo Angel up front, but rather Mike Magee and Chad Barrett. Last year’s Goalkeeper of the Year, Donovan Ricketts, was unavailable and thus Josh Saunders got the nod in net.
The tempo of the game in the first 30 minutes was frenetic, and really seemed to restrict quality opportunity. Both teams desired to use one-touch passing to gain the advantage on attack, but the passes often lacked the accuracy necessary to sustain. The majority of quality chances came to Seattle, especially as the half progressed and they had success leaning on the Dunivant/Leonardo side. Fernandez did well carrying the ball past Dunivant on the right, and his crosses created several excellent opportunities for White and Montero. The overriding theme for Seattle this evening became the lack of finishing sparkle, especially from their designated player.
The best of LA’s offensive chances came on the set piece, and they nearly opened the scoring when Beckham took a free kick from 27 yards, but the curling effort skimmed the crossbar above the right corner. The teams entered the half at 0-0.
After the half, it was clear that Bruce Arena had seen a hole in the Seattle midfield. Beckham had a lot of space to run, perhaps because of Zakuani being so high up the pitch. Arena switched the wing midfielders, to allow Donovan to exploit that space. This did seem to open up the LA attack more, but neither team broke through until Juninho put his foot through a ball from 25 yards, which knuckled towards the net from the left. Kasey Keller got a hand on it, but it wasn’t enough, and LA took the lead.
At this point, LA rolled back the extra wing, and defensively sat in two level banks of 4. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid seemed to spend the rest of the game finding a way to get Montero involved in the action. He brought on Roger Levesque, who in my mind inexplicably came on for Fernandez (who had been the best Sounder at carrying the attack into the final third). Montero shifted to left wing, and Zakuani was stuffed into the central midfield. Eventually, Miguel Montano came on for Zakuani, and Montero assumed a midfield role. It is unclear whether this was to help with the attack flow through central midfield, or if it was a response to his lack of influence within the match.
Los Angeles responded to their 1-0 lead by retreating into a defensive 4-5-1 formation with Donovan as the lone striker. This was afforded by subbing out both Magee and Barrett for midfielders Michael Stephens and Jovan Jirovski, respectively. Aside from a few squandered chances by Seattle, the Galaxy defense proved up for the task to hold the decisive one-goal lead to close out the match.
In my opinion, Seattle’s offense became less dangerous as soon as Fernandez was taken out. Levesque and Erik Friberg were ineffective in creating the same opportunities that Fernandez opened up through the wide play. Part of this was due to LA being able to nurse the cushion they owned, but also it seemed that Friberg’s quality was lacking.
And I did pick on the Sounders’ forwards for lack of finishing ability, but let’s not forget that the Galaxy also suffered from the same malaise in this match. One of the talking points about this team is finding goals without Edson Buddle. Barrett and Magee were not productive in the front, although Barrett did seem to have some solid passes to link up play. In that regard, I’d think he might work well with Angel up front as a proven scorer.
An entertaining match, and I’m excited to be able to bring these tactical reviews to you at least weekly for this season. Hoping this edifies the readership here on Major League Soccer Talk, and if you have suggestions, please feel free to chime in. I plan to spread the love around, so as to speak, so be on the lookout for your favorite team in the future!