A Beckham-less Galaxy squad flew into the City of Brotherly Love, dominated much of the match, but only took one point back to Southern California as the Union capitalized on a defensive error.
The match was mostly a battle of two sets of 4-4-2 diamond formations. Philadelphia has been left to tinker with their formation and roles over the first portion of this season. This time, under the watch of assistant coach John Hackworth, they started with Sebastian LeToux as their primary striker. Carlos Ruiz, a guy who has seen mixed reviews in his return to MLS, played in the hole as a target man. With box-to-box midfielder Kyle Nakazawa getting the nod in the central attack position, this wasn’t a particularly attack-minded formation.
In contrast, LA fielded almost the same formation. Juan Pablo Angel was the player dropped into the hole behind Miguel Lopez. The main difference was in the central attacking midfield, where Landon Donovan provided an offensive impetus that Philadelphia lacked in the push forward.
The Galaxy were a mix of high pressure when out of possession, and medium-tempo passing when in possession. They were content to play with the ball, making the Union either chase or sit back. Aside from LeToux the Union did not seem committed to pressing on the LA midfield, so the Galaxy dominated the early going. Most of the play went through Donovan and Angel, and the passing between the backs and midfield was effortless due to the time the Galaxy had on the ball.
There were two factors in the lack of possession for the Union. First, Ruiz was played as a target man, with nearly every ball played out of the back being played into him. He was routinely dominated in these challenges by the high defensive line for Los Angeles. The other factor was that, when in possession, the Union favored high-tempo, low-percentage passes which stifled any motion forward. This occurred throughout the pitch, but was most noticeable in their own half with players like Danny Califf and Brian Carroll looking for the miracle rather than the build.
This match also marked the weakest the Union defensive line has looked. Lopez was looking routinely to play in behind the defense, but the center backs were completely fooled in the 24th minute. Chris Birchall played a ball from the right flank towards the area. Donovan was there, but he was the dummy in the play. The ball ended up with Angel, and after a skirmish near the penalty spot, Donovan buried the ball past an out-of-position Faryd Mondragon for the 1-0 lead.
The Union did pick up some steam as the half ended, showing a little more determination. After the intermission, Hackworth replaced Keon Daniel with Danny Mwanga. There were also some adjustments made to the Union tactic. Ruiz and LeToux were leveled up top. Mwanga played the right midfield position in the 4-1-3-2, but he was also used as the target man. Justin Mapp inverted to the left side of midfield.
These changes were positive for the Union attack, partly because LA was keen to allow the Union more time in the effort to nick a goal on the counterattack. This amounted to the Galaxy attacking midfield 3 trying to stay behind the Union’s. The effect of this allowed Union possession, but there were still no quality chances to be had for Philadelphia.
Hackworth searched for goals with his subs. Attacking midfielder Roger Torres replaced Nakazawa, a definite upgrade in attack penchant. Then the Union went with three back by bringing on striker Jack McInerney for left fullback Jordan Harvey. This resulted in what could be called a 3-4-3 diamond formation, Carroll being the holding midfielder.
The Union goal came off a defensive miscue by Sean Franklin in the 84th minute. A Philadelphia long ball came to him under pressure from Mwanga. Franklin tried to play it back to Donovan Ricketts, but he misplayed it. Mwanga got there before Ricketts, evaded the keeper, and calmly struck it past the diving LA defense.
At that point, the Galaxy brought on three striking players to match the Philly formation. LeToux settled back into the right fullback role to help close out the match for the Union, 1-1.
For Los Angeles, a point in this match probably was less than they deserved. They were the better organized team, and had numerous chances to score the second goal. It took two fabulous saved from Mondragon and a two headers from Omar Gonzalez to go wide in order for the Union to scratch out a point. The Galaxy continue to wait for offseason acquisition Juan Pablo Angel to come into form, but the good news is that Donovan is looking sharp.
For Philadelphia, this result doesn’t change much, except for the fact that Mondragon may have picked up a groin injury late in the match. He persisted, but the team has to hope that this is a minor knock. Most have attributed the Union’s stingy defense to his leadership. Losing him for any length of time could spell trouble. The offense continues to look anemic. The blend issue with Ruiz and the other forwards is troublesome. That being said, Ruiz was much better in the second half, even winning some crucial headers. The balance is to have a solid central midfield defensively as well as the ability to move the ball forward. The midfield passes are not simple enough to sustain possession and generate momentum. This was the case in the first half. There is still lots of work to be done.