With Real Salt Lake opening their season against LA Galaxy tomorrow, we're facing once again one of the difficult sides in MLS to play against. With some attentive play and effective possession, we can neutralize the threat and create options for ourselves at the same time.
Narrow at the back
LA Galaxy are not, I think, a side that will hit you with incredible crosses consistently; they are, however, a side that can always spot any gaps and spaces between the center backs and the full backs. Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan both excel at stepping into the channels, though the way in which they operate differs somewhat.
If we are to prevent those deadly two from capitalizing on any space, we have to remain somewhat narrow at the back. This should not be entirely too problematic, though. It was something we could pinpoint in several preseason matches: the full backs tuck in when defending and push out wide in attack. Exaggerating this a bit could help our chances.
Soak up pressure
It's difficult to say how LA Galaxy will come out of the gates, but with the first match in front of their home crowd, they'll likely see some attacking impetus behind them. If we can adjust our game to soak up some of the inevitable pressure that comes our way, we can avoid getting caught out when a fast Galaxy side comes streaking at us.
This doesn't mean surrendering possession by any stretch, but it does mean we'll want to shape our approach to regaining it. We can't have defenders pushing too far, as we'll get caught — this is something we saw in previous matches against the Galaxy.
This approach does, however, require more than a modicum of attentiveness and preparedness from the midfield: This necessitates moving as a unit and understanding where pockets of space have and will emerge. This also means we must watch any runs further inside our area — if we let someone like Robbie Keane move into a more open position, we won't fare well.
Hit them on the counter
We should be a fine counterattacking side but too often we lose sight of that. While the focus is and should continue to be on effective play through possession, we have the right tools for effective play on the break. With Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata, we have quick forwards who can find themselves in great positions; in Kyle Beckerman and Ned Grabavoy, we have midfielders who can hit anybody with a pass; in Luis Gil and Javier Morales, we have attacking players who can really create opportunities.
By soaking up pressure when we don't have possession, too, we encourage Galaxy to push further into our half in an attempt to break our stance and find space to create. While there is some inherent risk in this, it allows us to take advantage of the plentiful options at our disposal.