Bruce Arena found himself a bit spoiled against the LA Galaxy’s hated-rivals, the San Jose Earthquakes. The amount of attackers he had did not fit into the scheme that had brought the Galaxy so much success. The Galaxy had been utilizing the 4-2-3-1 with better success than any other MLS side this season. They were 3-1-0 using the formation, scoring 14 goals and surrendering just five.
Gyasi Zardes had claimed that front role in the 4-2-3-1 and made it his own, however, meaning that on Roy Keane’s return, changes would be potentially be looming. Bruce Arena had experimented with the 4-3-3 and 4-4-2, but had only amassed a 1-3-1 record with the two formations combined.
So, with two strikers and Giovanni Dos Santos holding onto that No. 10 position with a vice grip, Bruce Arena attempted a brand new formation, the 4-1-2-1-2. Nigel De Jong’s return prompted the use of a defensive midfielder and Steven Gerrard’s and Mike Magee’s versatility allowed the Galaxy to slide seamlessly into the formation, leaving Dos Santos in the No. 10 role and giving Zardes and Keane joint-striker roles.
It didn’t necessarily work out. At least, not for the most part. In front of a home crowd, facing their dearly-beloved rivals, the Galaxy scored just one goal – an own goal.
But discerning what went wrong isn’t the easiest of feats because, to put it simply, not that much went wrong. There were plenty of opportunities for LA to put the game away. Roy Keane was a consistent presence, Gyasi Zardes was a menace in the air, Dos Santos rocketed a ball off the crossbar and there was enough wide play to warrant significant crosses.
If anything, the Zardes/Keane combination was very positive. Zardes created four chances, most of which fell onto the very capable feet of Keane or Dos Santos. The finishing was just a little bit off. Steven Gerrard seemed to take to the wide role rather nicely. He controlled the match and launched three very probing balls.
To pin the seemingly lackluster result on anything, it might as well be pinned on the San Jose Earthquakes stepping up to the plate. The Quakes showed tremendous fight and tremendous defensive abilities to keep an ever-potent Galaxy from scoring a goal of their own.
Whatever the result, Bruce Arena’s flexibility and creativity must be commended. He is constantly innovating to try to create the most effective environment for his team to be successful. We have seen the Galaxy look completely brilliant at times this year, but given the fluctuating crop of players, it’s hard to prolong over a series of matches and formation changes. That is why Arena’s changes have to keep taking place. There are going to be numerous combinations that breed different results. It’s up to Arena to find the best.