Part One, looking over their lineup and form, was posted yesterday
As mentioned in Part One, this meeting comes at an awkward time. With both sides missing so many keys pieces, it will be difficult to pinpoint exactly how this game will play out. Will the largely first-choice LA midfield dominate a reconfigured Toronto one? Or will Sebastian Giovinco have his way with a back-line shorn of its dominant force Omar Gonzalez?
One thing that is certain is that Toronto will have to be careful in how they approach Robbie Keane.
Despite having missed half the season with groin problems, when on the field, Keane has produced at his usual clip, scoring three goals and producing four assists through ten appearances. He has a goal and three assists in their last three matches.
Now 34 years of age, on the cusp of 35, Keane may have lost some of that pace and energy which defined his career, but what he has lost in speed, he has more than compensated for with intelligence.
In particular, Toronto will have to be wary of Keane dropping off the back-line, almost into the midfield in order to get on the ball, inserting himself into the build-up. By doing that, he allows the rest of the LA attack to make runs, forcing back the defensive line and creating space for Keane to run or play into.
That is not to say that Keane is unwilling to made the runs himself, he is, but his ability to play-make is the more constant threat.
Take this goal against Philadelphia, LA's third of the evening, in many ways the critical blow. The midfield forces a turnover and Gyasi Zardes springs Keane down the left. Without the pace to burst around the outside and in on goal himself, Keane slows the tempo, waiting for help to arrive, before picking out the back-side run of Zardes with a perfect cross:
Watch how many times Keane lifts his head to check and recheck Zardes' position, something no Philadelphia defender manages in their panic, allowing him to assault the back-post, and for Keane to find him.
Keane has to be shutdown, but not just him, marking his runners out of the game is a crucial aspect to limiting the Irishman's ability to open up defenses.
That willingness to run the channels has been instrumental in LA's success, they are especially fond of movement down either side of the box. Zardes, in particular, is adept at this, but in his absence expect Jose Villarreal and Sebastian Lletget, as well as the full-backs, Robbie Rogers and Dan Gargan, to pick up that slack.
Another goal from that match against Philadelphia, the fifth, gives an indication of that sort of move. Baggio Husidic rumbles up the middle, playing to Zardes streaking up the right. Normally, Zardes would surge down that side of the box, but instead, he mixes it up, freezing Richie Marquez with a faint to the outside before setting up Lletget with a square ball across the top of the box:
Without Zardes, expect Villarreal to fulfill a similar, if less explosive, role.
The key for Toronto will be to anticipate, while also reading and reacting – a difficult balance to strike indeed.
The risk of course, is that hesitation can itself be the downfall. Another Lletget goal exemplifies this fault. Portland does nearly everything right: they track the run down the right-side of the area, they accommodate the goal-ward movement of Zardes at the back, but in doing so, they drop too deep and when the deflected cross falls a few yards higher in the box, there is no one there to challenge Lletget's finish:
That is where the burden falls on the defensive midfielders to provide that added support to the back-line. Generally one would not want the midfielders to drop so much into defensive space, but when the back-line is forced deep, maintaining the proper distance between lines of protection can be a useful adaptation. The burden for this duty will largely fall on Collen Warner; he is a good reader of the game, but needs to be extra alert with all of LA's moving pieces.
Speaking of Lletget, he has been fantastic since arriving, scoring three goals in his six appearances – the loss in San Jose ended his three-game scoring-streak.
Unheralded when he arrived, his quality and energy has been part of the reason for LA's recent renaissance – he must be watched at all times, as the absence of Zardes will put more of the attacking burden on his shoulders.
As if those power moves were not enough, LA is very capable of engaging in some of the finer passages as well. Just look at this touch from Villarreal to set up Zardes against New England:
That is just indefensible, aside from perhaps backing off, but that creates its own problems as seen above. Villarreal scored the winner against San Jose midweek and will be eager to get back on the pitch having missed some time with a muscle injury exacerbated by returning to the pitch for the US U-20's prematurely.
One final concern, many more could be discussed, is shots from distance. The embodiment of this is Juninho, the Brazilian midfielder with a thunderous reputation from range.
He has scored in LA's last three matches, including this rocket against San Jose to open the scoring before the fixture congestion caught up with the Galaxy:
That is simply unstoppable, from some thirty-plus yards at least. Half-cleared balls are one source of frustration – Toronto needs to be precise in that area of the pitch – but another is the late-arriving run for a pull-back, such as led to Juninho's goal against the Union. And Toronto is familiar with his ability from set-pieces.
Warner again will have to be active in such areas, but when he is in dispose, the rest of the midfield will have to track back to cover those spaces.
That in both of their five-goal outputs, five different goal-scorers have contributed, is just one more reason that Toronto will need to confront them with a total team performance – there can be no passengers.
A benefit that Toronto can look to turn to their advantage come Saturday is that LA looked tired and leggy in the second half against San Jose in league play last weekend. This match will be their seventh in 22 days. Bruce Arena managed to get several of his starters some rest during the Open Cup on Wednesday, but still a fresh Toronto, especially those breaking into the first team, should run at LA and wear them down.
The primary weakness that Toronto should look to exploit is a frailty when it comes to marking and tracking threats in the area, something that comes out on set-pieces in particular.
Chris Wondolowski is the obvious man to keep a close eye on when playing San Jose, but LA let the ball come to him on the doorstep just seconds into the match – a huge save from Jaime Penedo denied the chance – but later in the first-half, Wondolowski was able to escape their attentions, when Matias Perez Garcia got on the ball wide right, by making a late near-post move to smash into the net:
Stefan Ishizaki is with him, but lets him get away and nobody on the back-line steps out to pick up the coverage. Toronto has to make those sorts of runs, force LA to either pick them up, or leave them be. Such movement will also have the added benefit of letting Giovinco get lost in the shuffle, which can only be good.
Clarence Goodson's goal later that match, a header that proved the game-winner, came from a corner kick, where he was able get on the end of the delivery at the near-post. That goal was simply too easy, and if there is one criticism of Toronto's attack, it is that they have not made the most of set-pieces.
Damien Perquis has been looking hungry in the box, and Eriq Zavaleta had a recent attempt blocked on the line by Tommy McNamara. Both should be targets in the area, but the delivery has to beat the first man in order to find them.
CJ Sapong too was able to exploit that hesitancy in a similar manner. AJ DeLaGarza was right there, but held off for just a fraction of a second, allowing Sapong to collect, turn, and find the back of the net:
Tesho Akindele's winner was in that same vein, the back-line freezing long enough to allow him to get off the shot.
That is exactly the sort of goal one can envisage Giovinco scoring. Toronto needs to move the ball quickly, get the back-line falling off – running off the ball will assist in that - and then exploit that space.
Combine that hesitancy with the poor threat assessment and LA are very susceptible to the counter attack. Columbus made great use of a combination of a fast break and a late-arriving runner to equalize:
There is not a whole lot of pace on the LA back-line, so that ball behind the left-back for Ethan Finlay to chase is devastating – Leonardo's desperation to cut it out indicates that he at least, is aware of that deficiency. After that the back-line collapses, allowing Higuain to stroll into the middle for the tidy finish.
Toronto has all the pieces it needs to threaten on such plays, though width has not been a major factor in their attack this season. Marky Delgado can penetrate like that, so too can Dan Lovitz if he sees the field. The question will be who TFC drafts into the central attacking position and whether the chance to burst past around the outside will present itself.
Justin Morrow will be returning to his natural left-back slot and Warren Creavalle has looked lively and more comfortable in recent outings. Both of them should look to get involved in fast breaks to allow Toronto to outnumber defenders on such plays.
LA have had a lot of trouble with attacks from the wide positions – a long Ray Gaddis run led to an early Zach Pfeffer chance – and Shea Salinas beating Dan Gargan one-on-one led to San Jose's third goal:
Of the many things Toronto can do to threaten, playing quickly makes every single one more troublesome for LA. Get the ball to Giovinco, get the full-backs into play, move through the midfield with purpose. In two of the last three games Toronto struggled to break down a well-drilled, organized defense – a little bit of extra speed, of foot and of mind, can aid in that task.
Points of Interest
This will be the only meeting between these teams in the regular season.
The two have played thirteen times in MLS play, LA winning five, Toronto two, and drawing the other six. Seven of those games have been played in LA, where the Galaxy have won four, Toronto one, and two have ended level. Toronto's only win came back in April of 2008 by a 2-3 result, Danny Dichio, Jarrod Smith, and Jeff Cunningham scoring; Landon Donovan scored both for LA that day.
LA are unbeaten in the last nine encounters – five at home – though five of those matches have been draws. They have won the last two at home, but Toronto took a point from the three prior to those.
A few random tidbits: LA has been releasing commemorative posters for each match, the one for Toronto seems to imply that TFC, and by extension Canada, are worms – that's not cool. Steven Gerrard is set to be unveiled at half-time and will begin training with the club shortly; they have composed a mini-documentary series called from Liverpool to Los Angeles to cover the occasion – Part One can be seen here.
And finally, for those who prefer words to images, a fantastic long-form on Baggio Husidic and his journey from a war-torn homeland.