Talking Tactics: Arena, Yallop, Kreis scheme, but results vary

LA get the win, while SJ and RSL fall – who's responsible?

After 30 rounds of MLS regular-season play, how many secrets can you
really have in terms of tactics and personnel?

So the postseason
will be decided on effort, execution and intangibles. Managers can still
have an influence through prudent personnel selection and through minor
tactical tweaks, of course.

These were three such instances of
schematic tinkering from the opening legs of the first-round playoff
series, including one that worked, one not so much and one that landed
somewhere in between.

One scheme that worked: It really
wasn’t an adjustment so much as a bend in the mind set and perhaps a few
yards of positioning that put LA in control of their home-and-away set
with Seattle.

Simply put, Bruce Arena made a choice to go
defensive, to clog up, bottle up, obfuscate and frustrate last Sunday.
He had no problem asking Landon Donovan and David Beckham, two of Major
League Soccer’s premier attackers, to check their instincts for bold
attack and become millionaire diggers and grinders for the night.

asked them to go gritty at Qwest Field—a directive they apparently had
no problem buying into, because they basically spent the night tracking
back, denying balls into the Seattle wingers, and then working back even
further any time Sanna Nyassi or Steve Zakuani did get on the ball.

the inside, midfielder Dema Kovalenko and center back A.J. DeLaGarza
kicked like mules, chasing Seattle’s Fredy Montero and Blaise Nkufo
mercilessly. On another night, it might not have worked so famously. But
referee Ricardo Salazar preferred a few “talking to’s” over yellow
cards, much to the fuming displeasure of the Sounders pair. (DeLaGarza’s
presence was interesting on its own; Arena bravely chose the less
experienced center back over the slower Gregg Berhalter, denying Seattle
a prime mismatch.)

Once the Galaxy had their goal—Edson’s
Buddle’s bomb of beauty from 35 yards—LA’s defensive posture was even
more effective.

Could Seattle have possibly benefitted by dropping
central midfielders Nathan Sturgis and Osvaldo Alonso further back,
therefore dropping Montero a little further back to fill the hole and
forming something closer to a 4-2-3-1? We’ll never know.

scheme that didn’t:
Only San Jose coach Frank Yallop can say why he
tinkered with something that worked so well.

The Earthquakes
blazed into the playoffs on Chris Wondolowski’s brilliant recent form.
Around the park, the other elements were fairly stable, an injury- or
recovery-related personnel alteration here and there notwithstanding.

formula that worked so well at Buck Shaw Stadium had Geovanni, the
Designated Player signed midseason, playing a freeform role beneath
striker Ryan Johnson. Geovanni drifted pretty much where he wanted,
often retreating back to form, essentially, a five-man midfield out of
the Earthquakes’ standard 4-4-2.

Meanwhile, “Wonder Wondo” was
scoring like he was playing against the local junior college on EA’s FIFA
. He lined up on the right but popped up in places that made him
tough to track.

Against the Red Bulls, Yallop retained the basic
scheme; however, he rotated the important pieces. Wondolowski played
alongside Johnson at striker while Geovanni played wide right. The idea
was to attack New York through lots of crosses, with Geovanni ostensibly
supplying his share from the right while Bobby Convey did his thing
from the left.

But the scheme took Geovanni off the ball as often
as we saw him on it before. San Jose’s possession just wasn’t crisp,
which shouldn’t surprise anyone since it was Geovanni’s introduction
this summer that seemed to improve the ball-handling around Buck Shaw in
the first place. Unable to possess the ball, the attack often went
directly into Johnson, bypassing Geovanni altogether.

Márquez’s smarts and Joel Lindpere’s industry for the Red Bulls were
just too much in the middle for Sam Cronin and Scott Sealy, the
Earthquakes' central pairing. The Red Bulls controlled the center of the
park, which actually made it that much harder for San Jose to find the
wide players.

As for Wondolowski, Red Bulls center backs Tim Ream
and Carlos Mendes were able to locate him quickly and eliminate most of
the opportunities before they arrived into him.

San Jose players
and coaches seemed oddly content with the number of crosses and
half-chances generated. That’s their right. But you show me a team that
puts just three shots on goal during a home playoff game, and I’ll show
you a team that’s not long for those playoffs.

One scheme that
almost worked:
In Dallas, Jason Kreis had a solid plan that very
nearly worked for Real Salt Lake. Actually it worked to perfection for a
while. Until it didn’t.

Kreis knew how FC Dallas like to press up
high. The Red Stripes’ 4-1-4-1 allows heavy pressing just above the
halfway line. So the plan was to take advantage of Dallas’ tactics and
the natural tendency for playoff adrenalin to kick in and push people
toward the ball, further out than they might normally go. They wanted to
go right over the top, quickly, looking for Fabian Espindola or Alvaro
Saborio—but only for about 15 minutes.

The hope was to get an
early goal and then really turn the screws with tight possession. Kreis
thought they could sneak in an early strike and then create increasing
desperation by keeping the ball away from Dallas.

“The problem was
that we never got to what was supposed to happen after that,” Kreis
explained later. “We wanted to possess the ball for long stretches. But
we never got to that. The entire first half we kept trying to do what we
were only supposed to do for 15 minutes, which was when we got the
ball, to look in behind them right away.”

Which just goes to show
you: Coaches can study, plan and scheme like diligent bookworms, but the
game, as we know, is always decided by the players.

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With the Galaxy ahead 1-0 on aggregate goals in the
series, LA host Seattle
in the second game of the two-leg, home-and-home Western Conference Semifinals
on Sunday, November 7 at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN. BUY

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