LA Galaxy 3-1 Houston Dynamo: working the channels and maximising set-piece chances

December 2, 2012

The starting line-ups

The Galaxy won their second consecutive MLS Cup after a second half turnaround.

Juninho and Landon Donovan returned to Bruce Arena’s side, in place of Marcelo Sarvas and Edson Buddle respectively.

Dominic Kinnear chose a 4-4-2 system, with Calen Carr upfront alongside Will Bruin. Macoumba Kandji was only on the bench.

The goals broadly fitted the pattern of the game – the Dynamo played good football in the first half, but were unable to withstand the Galaxy’s pressure in the second half.


The tactical battle in this match was relatively simple, for both were using 4-4-2 formations. There were differences in how they actually worked on the pitch – the Galaxy tended to play with more width, as Christian Wilhelmsson stayed wide (to little effect – he was probably the game’s weakest player), whereas the Dynamo brought Boniek Garcia inside to play as more of a shuttler than a winger, helping the Dynamo to dominate the centre of the pitch.

As the Dynamo had more players in central positions, there were simple forward passes on offer when the duo of Adam Moffat and Ricardo Clark had the ball, so they stayed in deep, central positions and protected the centre-backs, although this probably resulted in Beckham having too much time on the ball. The Galaxy didn’t really know how to cope with Garcia’s movement, although he carried the ball forward manfully rather than offering outright creativity.

Key battlezone

With Garcia’s advanced and central positioning, it was notable how much Kofie Sarkodie overlapped in the first half, and although Mike Magee performed his defensive duties well positionally, he was often simply beaten in the tackle by Sarkodie, who went close to the opening goal after a storming forward run.

This area of the pitch turned out to be the key battlezone in the first half. Because Sarkodie was pushing forward, Robbie Keane was getting oceans of space when he moved out into the left-hand channel. The Galaxy should have opened the scoring from one of Keane’s runs into that zone – he was found by a typical Beckham pass from a deep, right-sided position, and the Irishman crossed for Donovan, who contrived to miss a simple chance. Sarkodie was nowhere to be seen, summing up how his aggressive positioning was Dynamo’s most promising outlet, and their biggest weakness.

Carr movement

This was an unusual game – it’s not often that ‘working the channels’ is such a key feature of a modern football match. Just as Keane and Donovan were spinning into the channels at one end, the Dynamo’s forwards were doing the exact same thing at the other. Carr was the Dynamo’s best player at doing this, drifting both left and right and creating overloads with the wingers, or running onto more direct balls played in behind. Within the first minute his presence wide on the left helped create a shooting opportunity for Clark.

Carr’s opening goal – running onto a through-ball in an inside-right position – was typical of his approach throughout the game, and the ball in behind from Moffat was the type of pass Beckham had been playing for the Galaxy.

Second half

The latter part of the first half had been played at a very slow tempo, but the Galaxy did well in the second half, picking up the pace and playing the majority of the game in the Dynamo half. There was nothing subtle about their approach – it was all about set-pieces and firing the ball into the box as frequently as possible. There were a couple of half-chances from dead ball situations, and Keane had a goal disallowed.

Omar Gonzalez was clearly the main threat, and although Beckham was the most obvious candidate to whip the ball in, it was actually Juninho who provided a fine delivery for the equaliser – which, on the balance of play, the Galaxy fully deserved. As if to demonstrate how the Dynamo weren’t clearing set-pieces effectively in the first place, the goal came after the Galaxy simply kept the pressure on following an initial unsuccessful corner.

More set-pieces

The pattern continued – this was simply sheer pressure from the Galaxy, nothing more complex than getting the ball into the penalty box repeatedly. In an odd combination of the previous two incidents, Keane had a second goal disallowed following a Gonzalez knock-down, which had predictably come from a Beckham corner.

Next, Dynamo conceded a penalty, converted by Donovan, after handball following a Beckham free-kick. The Dynamo lacked a commanding figure in the mould of Gonzalez to clear the ball, and the crosses kept coming.

Carr absence

They also lacked Carr – who was forced to depart through injury shortly before the Galaxy’s equaliser, with Macoumbda Kandji replacing him.

That was crucial for two reasons – first, because he’d been helping to block Gonzalez’s runs at set-pieces during the first half (most notably when Magee had a good headed chance), and second because he was the most obvious out-ball for Dynamo – they’d previously been able to simply send the ball forward relatively aimlessly and Carr would spin in behind and attack in the channels.

Late switches

After Donovan’s penalty, things started to get tactical. Arena decided to bring on Buddle for Wilhelmsson, in order to put Donovan to the right right as a more reliable player in a defensive sense.

Meanwhile, Kinnear started to change things. Giles Barnes replaced Moffat and played a more attack-minded role, but it was a surprise Kinnear waited until 75 minutes to reach for his 3-4-1-2 formation. Veteran Brian Ching came on for Sarkodie and played upfront, with Khandji going left, Davis moving inside and Corey Ashe tucking in to become a left-sided centre-back. The 3-4-1-2 often works well against a flat 4-4-2, and as the sheer momentum was with the Dynamo, it meant an extra player in central goalscoring positions, resulting in a couple of half-chances – Ching had a good effort from distance, and played a good target man role for the final 15 minutes.

Keane breaks

But Keane became the most dangerous player on the pitch after the Dynamo went 3-4-1-2 – without Sarkodie on the pitch whatsoever, he got all kinds of space on the left, with Bobby Boswell moving across but failing to stop him. He went close after a dribble and a shot from the edge of the box, then missed a one-on-one after moving more central, then won the decisive penalty in stoppage time.

His pace and mobility on the break always provided an out-ball, and over the course of the game, the Galaxy created more goalscoring opportunities.

Beckham always sprayed the ball right, while Keane's key actions (dribbles won, fouls won and key pass) came in left-of-centre positions


Two factors here – balls into the channels and set-pieces. Both sides were able to threaten with the first approach through Carr and Keane (and to a lesser extent, Donovan), but only the Galaxy were a threat from set-plays, with Beckham’s delivery and Gonzalez’s aerial abilities.

Carr’s fine first half performance put the Dynamo on top, but his departure meant no threat in the channels, and therefore the Galaxy were dominant in the game’s two key areas.

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