In a match that LA had the lion’s share of possession and shots, the Loons still had a chance to snatch a precious away point. Kyndra de St. Aubin said it best right before halftime when she pointed out the fact that Loons’ attack and defense were two different entities. At times Rodriguez and Quintero were on an island trying to turn and run against a very expensive Galaxy defense. In the best of times they were able to combine and run at the defense together, at the worst of times it was one or the other of them trying to challenge the back line. If the first half was playing with fire, the second half was trying to tame it. The Loons reversed their fortunes with some good possession and sustained pressure for the first goal, trademark mistakes to go down again, and a deadly counter to tie it up again.
The first ten minutes of the game had telltale marks of a shellacking for the Loons. The Galaxy were first to every ball and Zlatan dropping into midfield was difficult to deal with considering the lack of a dedicated holding midfielder for the Loons. Playing three #8s in the midfield meant that there wasn’t someone to pick up the players slipping between the lines. The first goal from Alessandrini was the result of Zlatan pulling away from the centerbacks and Alessandrini running into the space as Warner got caught behind the play with Ibson nowhere to be found. Alessandrini’s strike from 25 yards beat Shuttleworth down low and the Loons found themselves in a very familiar position.
Following the goal, Heath made some tactical changes that altered the game for the Loons. Rather than having our three 5’10” midfielders mark the tall Swede, a 6’+ centerback would come charging out of the back and make him put his head down and focus on the ball at his feet rather than trying to connect with his teammates. On the goal, Zlatan was allowed to receive the ball, turn, look over the top of Calvo, and lay it off to the goalscorer. For the rest of the match, he wasn’t allowed to take more than two touches on the ball without contact from Boxall or Kallman. Without Zlatan dictating play, the Loons were able to start to scrape their way back into the game.
The rest of the first half consisted of a couple missed chances for the Galaxy as the Loons worked out how to shift and cover with a missing vigilante centerback and Rodriguez and Quintero doing their best to keep their opponents honest on the counter.
Heath’s halftime team talk and tactics adjustment seemed to have a big impact for the Loons in the second half. The one thing that remained the same was the play of Angelo Rodriguez. The Loons’ newest DP didn’t get a goal, but he was willing to fight off centerbacks and run them ragged all night long. He possesses what is quite possibly the most dangerous thing in all of sports: being deceptively strong and fast. It was not uncommon this evening to see him burst past the first defender and have the strength to fight off a second one. He was invaluable in keeping the Galaxy pinned back and not letting them have time to recycle the ball cleanly. The epitome of his night came when he put Galaxy centerback Ciani under pressure on a bouncing ball over the top, causing Ciani to slip when he tried to play it back to goalkeeper David Bingham. Rodriguez was unable to poke the ball into the net and was whistled(incorrectly, as replays showed minimal contact between Ciani and Rodriguez) for a foul. Lots of valuable hard work, not goal to show for it.
Thanks to the nullification of Zlatan, the Loons were able to hold the ball better in the second half. That increased possession lead to a corner and the Loons were able to keep the ball pinned in and cycle it back to Quintero on the wing. He as able to walk to the endline and clip a ball in for Boxy to nod home.
After Quintero spent the first 60 minutes of the match evading defenders on the dribble, Dos Santos, not a natural defender, chooses to stand off Quintero and not get embarrassed. This would be a good plan, if the byproduct wasn’t letting him literally walk the ball into a crossing position. Boxy gets his first MLS goal in 54 games and we are tied at ones.
For the period of ten minutes before and after the goal, the Loons were sitting pretty. They looked like they deserved their goal and belonged in the game. The downfall for the Loons was again an individual mistake. As Sebastian Lleget, Alessandrini’s replacement following a knee injury, drove at Eric Miller, Romney overlapped on the outside. Miller chose to step to Romney, similar to how he took a step against Yordy Reyna in the 4-2 loss a couple weeks ago. Without any cover for Miller and an open route to goal, Lleget stepped into the space curled his shot around the hopeless Shuttleworth. This is the second time Miller has made the wrong choice and conceded a goal, but this time he was isolated with the two-on-one without any cover on the inside from Calvo. After all that hard work to get back level, the Loons found themselves trailing again.
Loons fans would not be remiss for thinking that this would be the beginning of the end. Down a goal early, fight back into the game, give up another goal cheaply, give up another goal on the counter as they look for an equalizer. Repeat. But these aren’t the same Loons.
These Loons took pride in finding just how hard you could tackle Zlatan to not get called for a foul, but still leave him on the ground. These Loons were willing to challenge bigger and taller centerbacks and keep the ball while the rest of the midfield caught up to the play. These Loons got their fourth away point of the year.
After going down a goal, Adrian Heath made some bold and unexpected moves that on another night could have backfired. Romario Ibarra came on for Eric Miller, still a wide player, but much more attacking oriented. Abu Danladi, in his hot off the press #99 jersey, came on for Collen Warner. If the Ibarra sub was a slight change, the Danladi sub was a statement of intent. These Loons will not go quietly into the night. After being pestered and hassled and harried by Angelo Rodriguez all night, the Galaxy centerback corps had a different challenge: pace. Romario Ibarra and Abu Danladi wouldn’t be worried about winning a battle of strength like Rodriguez, they’ll just hop on their bikes and run and that’s exactly what happened on the second Loons’ equalizer. The Galaxy played a very high line, which allowed Ibson to play Danladi into space down the right. Two touches later and he had squared the ball across the face of goal for Romario to roof it. From 5 yards out. Oof that one had my heart racing for a second.
All the Loons had left to do was shut up shop for five minutes plus stoppage time. Rodriguez came off for Tyrone Mears in a rarely seen Adrian Heath Third Sub™ and the Galaxy looked like they were out of ideas. In the second half, their midfield had been outworked and the Loons were bolstered by the idea of a road point. The task got harder in the final minute of extra time when Calvo decided to toss the ball in the air following a Schuller tackle and got booked for...delay of game/unsportsmanlike conduct/dissent/idiocy. His first yellow came in the 64th minute for vocally displaying his displeasure with one of referee Baldomero Toledo’s calls. Whether or not he had any right to be upset with the calls, he still had no right to make that kind of a move as the captain. Next week against Dallas, tonight’s goalscorer and Anti-Zlatan Force Leader, Michael Boxall, will presumably get the armband.
In the end, they did just enough to outlast the Galaxy, despite Zlatan’s best efforts to earn a penalty in the 7th minute of the five minutes of added time. He went down under the pressure of Miguel Ibarra and Ibarra was left with the ball at his feet to hoof it upfield and wait for the whistle from Toledo. For those of you keeping score at home, Zlatan has 63 pounds and ten inches on Miguel Ibarra. If you prefer references from the animal kingdom, Zlatan weighs 60% of an octopus or 30% of a kangaroo more than Ibarra and still crumpled in the box.
One point on the first game of the road trip is better than nothing, but they could have easily come away with nothing after a rough first half. This game shows improvement from previous away games, and if the upward trend continues the Loons may have a real shot at getting something out of the road trip.
My player of the game: Angelo Rodriguez. Boxy and Kallman were fantastic tonight, but our new #9 worked hard with almost no support all night and still managed to create his own shot on several occasions. He relieved pressure on the Loons’ defense and gave them a chance to reset between Galaxy attacks. It won’t be long before he gets on the scoresheet for the Loons.