After riding a three-game shutout into the second leg of the Western Conference Finals, Robbie Rogers and the Galaxy back line turned in a subpar performance, conceding twice en route to a narrow aggregate victory. On Sunday, when Rogers' crew looks to shut the door on Charlie Davies' impressive playoff run, they will do so with the help of versatile defender A.J. DeLaGarza. Healthy and hungry for an MLS Cup victory, DeLaGarza will bolster a stingy LA back line. Will his return offer a defensive edge for the home club?
We compare back lines in part 2 of our position-battle breakdown. Which team gains an edge from its defensive unit?
For LA, the return of A.J. DeLaGarza only solidifies a stifling defensive unit. In fact, the Galaxy have not conceded in the 2014 postseason with DeLaGarza on the pitch, a testament to his value in the middle (and, in many of his appearances, on the right or left flank). With Dan Gargan filling his spot due to injury, the Galaxy back line regressed just a bit, conceding a pair of soft goals in the team's 2-1 loss to Seattle. Though Gargan did not directly play a role in either goal, the team thoroughly missed DeLaGarza's leadership, versatility and grittiness along the back line. In a one-off match, with their star back and supposedly healthy, the Galaxy will likely feature Robbie Rogers and U.S. International Omar Gonzalez, along with center back Leonardo. The Brazilian defender represents the only mistake-prone player among the four--and perhaps the only path to goal, if the Galaxy play to their potential.
On the other hand, the Revs will enter Sunday's match looking to rebound from a sloppy defensive performance. Though this team benefits from elite talent, they failed to turn in a clean leg-two match for keeper Bobby Shuttleworth, forcing Chris Tierney and Charlie Davies to account for a pair of conceded goals. If the Revs want to outshine the competition, they must tighten up in the back, reducing poor clearances, sloppy touches and miscommunication in front of goal. They certainly have the personnel to keep LA out of the net, though they'll need to maintain their shape (and their heads) if the Galaxy start to dictate the tempo. It's close, but LA earns the advantage for consistency and a near-flawless track record.
The New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew had porous back lines that the Revolution attack feasted upon, but this won't be the case on Sunday. The Galaxy only allowed 37 goals during the regular season, putting them even with DC United as the stingiest team in MLS. LA continued their defensive success in the postseason as they went 296 minutes without conceding a goal.
Defensively, the Revolution has been suspect. Their last shutout came on October 25th against a demoralized Toronto FC side. Before that they allowed their opponent to score in eight consecutive games. The Revolution back line is a talented bunch, but the team-wide emphasis on attacking leaves the defense vulnerable.
But it's closer than you think, even with a healthy DeLaGarza playing for the Galaxy. One of the most impressive parts of the Galaxy's defense is that it does it without any holding midfielders to shield them in front, and it works just fine for them. But they played a mirror match against another 4-4-2 in the second leg against Seattle and looked out of sync to no one's surprise with Leonardo at centerback. But if Gonzalez and DeLaGarza are back in the middle, they're a top pairing in the league in central defense. Robbie Rogers might not be the most natural defender but he's smart and has thrived at the position this year and 32-year old Dan Gargan has had a resurgent year notching 5 assists in 29 games (27 starts).
Does that mean the Revs defense is bad? Not even close, especially after the signing of Jermaine Jones where the Revs have only allowed 16 goals in 14 games compared to the 36 goals allowed in 24 games before Jones. Chris Tierney and Kevin Alston have been stellar at times this season on offense and defense and the easy one-on-battles the Revs backline seemed to lose constantly in the early part of the year have been solved. Jose Goncalves might not be at his 2013 Defender of the Year form, but he's been at times close to it and A.J. Soares has arguably had his best season while Andrew Farrell continues to excel defensively on the right side.
L.A. gets the clear advantage here, but it's not a landslide. Omar Gonzalez is one of the best in the league, and the emergence of Robbie Rogers as a fullback has given the Galaxy incredible attacking prowess on the flank while surprisingly not sacrificing defensive capability, which is what they've been missing since Todd Dunivant fell off. DeLaGarza is great, but even if Leonardo is in the middle, the Galaxy defense is still just such a well-drilled lock-down unit. You have to give them the edge.
The Revs have played better since Jones arrived, but this is a far cry from the unbelievable defense we saw in the first half of 2013. Jose Goncalves has not played at all like the Defender of the Year he was last season, and while A.J. Soares has had probably his best season of his career (and a fine season it's been), he still makes the kind of mental mistakes that open holes and expose teammates. Fullback might be the Revs' strongest position, but each of the three (Farrell, Tierney, Alston) has his flaws that teams have exposed throughout the season. Generally, these guys come together and play solid soccer, keeping their team in games just enough. Against one of the league's most prolific attacks, though, that might not be enough.
Consensus: Galaxy, 4 Votes
Even with 2013 MLS Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves anchoring the middle of the Revs defense, and U.S. International Jermaine Jones sitting in front of the back four, our staff awarded LA's stifling defense a part 2 edge.
What about you? Which team do you believe gains an edge from its back line? Tell us below.