This week has not only seen the quarter-finalists of the Champions League revealed, we should not forget that it has also been the first week of the new MLS season or First Kick Weekend as it is sometimes known. Not surprisingly, the match between LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake drew a lot of the attention as these two had been great rivals last season. It was a first round of matches which again showed the strength of the Western Conference over the East with 5 wins to 1. We were able to view two well contested matches and analyse the games between LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake and Portland Timbers v Philadelphia Union.
LA Galaxy 1 – Real Salt Lake 3
The match at the Home Depot Center saw LA Galaxy start with a system of 1-4-4-2, using Robbie Keane in a free role alongside and behind Buddle, his striking partner. Real Salt Lake used 1-4-3-1-2, or, if you prefer, a flexible 1-4-4-2, with Gil, one of the central midfield, attacking between the lines to support the 2 strikers.
Maybe because it was the first match of the season, the game was not played at a particularly high tempo. The first half was fairly equal in terms of possession but LA Galaxy had the pick of the chances, Donovan coming inside from the right wing, latching on to a second ball and showing good volleying technique from outside the box to hit the bar in the 26th minute, and in the 46th minute Sarvas also hitting the bar with a good strike from long range.
The second half opened with a chance for Keane running behind a high defence with no pressure on the ball but his shot was straight at the goalkeeper. The first goal came in the 71st minute and it was LA Galaxy who got it. Beckham was now playing more on the right with the introduction of Juninho and his delivery at crosses has always been a great strength. A typical Beckham early cross from the right gave Buddle the chance to finish with a glancing header.
The second goal of the game followed within 3 minutes and it was an equaliser for the away team. A speculative cross from the right by Velasquez should have been dealt with easily by Franklin with his left foot but he elected to use his right and turned the ball in to his own net. The game was quite open with spaces appearing and the tempo remained slow although Donovan was trying to inject some pace in to the game. Real Salt Lake made the score 1-2 in the 79th minute when Grabavoy made a run in to the open space behind Beckham and the full back, dribbled in to the box and pulled it back for Morales to pounce on to a loose ball in the 6 yard box.
Just after LA Galaxy had taken off their centre back, Meyer, Espindola more or less put the game beyond doubt when from direct play he latched on to a second ball, found his team 2v2 against the defenders, carried it in to box and finished well left footed to make it 1-3. There were some late chances for Keane, Beckham and Juninho for LA Galaxy to pull goals back as RSL dropped off to protect the result.
Statistically, the match was fairly even. Using the data supplied by Opta, the possession was 49% Galaxy to 51% RSL and territorial possession the reverse. The most notable statistic was the passing accuracy – 82% success rate for RSL and only 74% for Galaxy. This would indicate that RSL were better in possession but Galaxy still had more shots on goal.
Portland Timbers 3 – Philadelphia Union 1
Portland began with a home win in a match played in heavy rain which did not dampen the singing by their fans. Chris Boyd was making his debut in the MLS and for the Timbers after his arrival from Scotland.
Portland started the game with a 1-4-4-2 formation with Boyd partnered up front by Perlaza whilst Philadelphia had a shape of 1-4-2-3-1 using Freddy Adu on the right to start with but later changing with Farfan. The players in the second line, Martinez, Adu and Farfan changed positions during the game but always with Pajoy as the target striker and the centre midfield players tending to hold their more defensive positions.
The first half passed with only one real effort on goal with Portland’s Alexander coming in to the box from the left wing and shooting right footed which the Philadelphia goalkeeper parried but not strongly enough and it nearly crept in at the far post. Both teams had a couple of opportunities to counter attack but they did not take full advantage of them. It was noticeable that the full backs on both teams enjoyed joining attacks trying to get numbers in attack.
The second half was more eventful. The first goal of the game came from a set piece. Philadelphia’s Gomez made a good delivery from a diagonal free kick and could have been credited with the goal but Portland centre back Jean Baptiste did not attack the ball with his head and it skimmed off him in to the net to make the score 0-1. Portland had most of the ball (finishing with 55.5% of the possession) and, less than three minutes after going behind, equalised with Jean Baptiste, this time positively attacking a delivery from another diagonal free kick and heading it goalwards. Philadelphia‘s young goalkeeper, MacMath, let the ball slip through his hands and the scores were level.
After 66 minutes Boyd opened his MLS and Portland account with a typical headed finish from a cross from the right. He came from behind a defender to get in front and glance a header in to the net making it 2-1. Although he is strong in the air and Portland did play direct some of the time, they resisted the temptation to play long to him on too many occasions. On 76 minutes the game was virtually sealed with a goal by Al Hassan. A quick free kick started him on a dribble in to the box where from a wide angle he lobbed the ball in to the far corner. Was it a cross or shot?
The game finished 3-1 with Portland having more possession and also having 17 shots to Philadelphia’s 5, according to local match figures.
So the season is under way and a recent talking point in the league has been the influx of foreign players to the MLS. Colombia has the most non-American players in the league followed by Canada. The total of foreign players amounts to 44%. A recent unofficial survey suggested that the majority of fans taking part in the poll did not mind this and they would rather see the standard of the league improve if that’s what the foreign players help to do. No doubt you will have your own opinions.