CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy had developed a nasty habit of conceding late goals that cost the team dearly during a four-game winless streak. But in Saturday night’s 2-0 win over Sporting Kansas City, LA’s back four was composed and organized as the Galaxy tallied their fourth shutout of the year.
Central to that resolute defensive play was the return to backline partnership of Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, and Todd Dunivant or as Landon Donovan christened them “the old crew.”
Bruce Arena was able to bring the group back together after Leonardo, who had started in central defense in seven of LA’s first nine games in all competitions, was issued a red card in LA’s 1-0 defeat to FC Dallas a week prior. The vacancy allowed the four defenders to resume their partnership and bag a shutout.
WATCH: Postgame reaction from Todd Dunivant
“That was our primary focus tonight, coming in and getting a shutout,” said Dunivant. “We have [not] given up a lot of chances, but we’ve given up goals and that comes down to concentration and you kind of make your own luck so tonight we wanted to do that, and the backline and the whole team was very solid.”
Often Sporting struggled to generate scoring opportunities as LA’s back four was able to match Kansas City’s athleticism. From the outset, Kansas City buckled under the Galaxy’s consistent high-pressure in midfield, which caused numerous turnovers and counterattacking opportunities for LA.
Those few attacks that did break through were frequently snuffed out by an organized Galaxy defense that minimized pressure in front of goal.
“They are an athletic bunch; they like to play a lot of through balls with Benny [Feilhaber], Graham [Zusi] and [Paulo] Nagamura,” DeLaGarza said. “It’s all about keeping in front of them, dropping when we need to drop and stepping when we need to step.”
Following the match, the defenders agreed that their familiarity on and off the field was a major asset in stopping the Kansas City attack.
WATCH: Postgame reaction from A.J. DeLaGarza
“We know each other well, we have always played well together, and it has only gotten stronger over time,” Dunivant said. “It was nice to have the group back and we have a lot of good players on this team so, it’s not like we can’t have other guys in there. This four has done very well and tonight was another example.”
“The backline that we started with, with A.J., me, Todd and Sean, it's something that's always worked,” Gonzalez said. “We've kind of gotten away from that, with Leo and bringing Tommy [Meyer] in, but I feel like every time we go back to it, it's something that always works.”
This familiarity brought a sense of stability to LA’s team defense, which had become error-prone in recent weeks. Too often during the Galaxy’s four-game winless streak, LA had seen scoring chances converted due to slipups across the field, but this was not the case against Sporting.
The closest that Sporting came to breaking through LA’s defense came in the 20th minute when a Zusi free kick from just outside the penalty area rattled off the crossbar.
“We’re not used to going that long without getting a shutout. We’ve been giving up sloppy goals, but if teams are going to beat us, if they’re going to score, make them really count. They almost did,” said Landon Donovan. “Graham hit a fantastic free kick and if that goes in, you can tip your hat and say fair enough, but we don’t want to give up any more sloppy goals, and [the back four] did a great job tonight.”
With Leonardo available for selection once more next week, will the back four stay together for Saturday’s clash against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium? Only time—and Arena—will have the answer to that question.
“It’s the coaches’ decision,” said DeLaGarza. “He knows what we can do as a unit, but no matter who is in there, we just have to play for a full 90.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com