Back on April 15th, the LA Galaxy embarrassed the Houston Dynamo to the tune of 4-1, at BBVA Compass Stadium, no less. It was one of the final games of Owen Coyle's reign as manager — he would have about a month and a half left — and it can be argued that game was rock-bottom for the Dynamo. At home, getting blown out by an opponent that was then relatively close to them in the standings — only two teams between them — and after that game, they dropped into last place and didn't relinquish it for months.
Wade Barrett now gets a chance to avenge the previous loss. It won't be easy, though, because the Galaxy have improved since then, and this time around, Houston are the away team.
Here's what they can do to make sure they don't fall back down into the abyss:
1. Compactness and man-marking
The list of high-quality attackers the Galaxy have goes on and on and on. Bruce Arena has about 900 different realistic options to play in the attack: Giovani dos Santos, Steven Gerrard, Mike Magee, Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes, Sebastian Lletget, Emmanuel Boateng, Jack McBean, Jose Villareal, Bradford Jamieson, Ariel Lassiter, and Alan Gordon each have gotten time on the field this season, from 17 minutes (Villareal) to 1158 (dos Santos). That's one of the reasons why LA are considered one of the scariest teams in MLS.
This is a rough approximation of what the lineup will look like:
It will likely be a 4-2-3-1. The only reason I say that is because that's what they played in Seattle last week. In fact, that's the exact lineup they played at Century Link. So Arena may or may not be inclined to change something, depending on how much he values their mid-week U.S. Open Cup match against the Sounders on July 15th. For some reason, I doubt he cares at all about that game, considering the extremely weak lineup he used in their last USOC match, so this is my best bet on what their lineup will look like.
Sometimes, dos Santos will decide he doesn't want to play winger anymore and range up front with Keane, meaning Husidic will take over the right midfield role and the formation will shift to more of a USMNT-style 4-1-3-2. Jeff Larentowicz then becomes the only midfielder playing defense, and teams take advantage of the space that is then given to them, so Gerrard is subbed off for someone who can help defensively. That's why he hasn't played 90 minutes since May.
This lineup — or something similar to this lineup — can be incredibly effective when everybody is working at their best. They can do things like this to their opponents:
They'll pass around in one area for a little bit before finding a tiny area of space and switching the field to a wide open attacker — in the above case, it was dos Santos — and then they get into transition, running into space vacated by defenders who had pushed to the other side of the field, and they earn an opportunity on goal. They disorganize backlines, and often find a way to take advantage of them.
The Dynamo, in turn, have to be able to keep their shape and make sure nobody gets too open. Don't let them switch the field, and prevent skillful players from finding space in the final third. Stay compact, and mark everybody.
This won't guarantee a clean sheet or anything, but it will put them on a good path towards one.
2. Speed kills
The Galaxy's backline has been one of the best in MLS this season, as the combination of veteran know-how and young talent has allowed it to flourish despite early doubts about its viability. Ashley Cole has been — in my opinion — the best left back in the league, Jelle Van Damme has established himself as LA's most underrated signing of their busy offseason, Daniel Steres has secured himself a starting job alongside the Belgian Van Damme, and A.J. DeLaGarza has done well while filling in for injured right back Robby Rogers. Dave Romney is a good young depth option as well.
The center back pairing of Steres and Van Damme — with the offseason departure of Omar Gonzalez, they have primarily played together — has been especially effective this season. They are both over 6'0", and Van Damme is 6'3", so they dominate in the air. Steres scored a set piece goal in his first MLS match, and he was the leading scorer in 2013 for the USL's Wilmington Hammerheads, with seven goals.
It's safe to say that these two have more Steve Birnbaum in them than they do DeAndre Yedlin.
So as good as they've been in the physical aspects of the game — heading, tackling, shielding and the like — they lack the speed to keep up with sprinting attackers. Consistently, they have both been beaten by agile wingers and forwards this season, and they've needed their full backs to prevent any disasters. This run by Cristian Roldan was against Romney, but it could easily be applied to Van Damme or Steres:
Roldan gets the Sounders attack in a good spot thanks to his run past Romney, and while Van Damme ended the play with a nice defensive block, the Galaxy backline is vulnerable to those kinds of attacks.
Also of note: Cole will be out injured on Friday, and defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong will be suspended (again). That means Steres and Van Damme will have less support, and that the Dynamo should be able to break through the backline a little easier.
It also means that players' ankles will not be shattered, thanks to the DisCo's additional suspension of de Jong.
3. Keep an eye on Keane
I couldn't finish this article without giving Robbie Keane more than a brief mention. Keane is one of the best players MLS has ever seen — yes, I will go that far — and he has proven himself to be one most talented goal-scorers ever to come into this league.
With over 110 combined goals and assists in his 10,000 MLS minutes, Keane produces at an unmatched rate, and he is always someone teams have to watch at all times, because he can change games in an instant. He runs behind defenses, he links play up top, and he finishes with incredible calmness and effectiveness. The Dynamo have to be able to deal with him.