The LA Galaxy boast one of the best attacking teams in MLS, which means that Jay Heaps has an interesting call to make ahead of Sunday's match. The question is: who gets the nod on the left side, Kevin Alston or Kelyn Rowe? You might be thinking that the choice is obvious, but while Rowe is arguably the better player, the combination of Alston and Chris Tierney might be more effective.
When Rowe went down in the first leg against the New York Red Bulls, Alston entered the game and slotted in at left back, pushing Tierney up into Rowe's role in midfield. Alston is perhaps the best one-on-one defender on the New England Revolution roster, and he made that clear when he came off the bench in New Jersey.
Right away, he used his speed to neutralize the pacey Lloyd Sam, a player who had been causing major problems for Chris Tierney. With Alston in the lineup, the Revolution have a shutdown fullback and a player who can cover for the "not so fast" center back pairing of Jose Goncalves and A.J. Soares. Offensively, Alston doesn't give anywhere near the same amount that Tierney does from the left side, but his defensive minded presence inevitably prevents the opposing teams from exploiting the right wing. If that isn't convincing enough, then consider asking this question: just where does Tierney best serve the team? In a primarily defensive position, or an attacking one?
With Tierney higher up the field, he delivers more balls into the box at a higher frequency than he would otherwise serve at fullback. In the postseason, Tierney's service has been invaluable, sending in a number of sublime crosses, and he was rewarded with two assists last weekend. Furthermore, with so much creative play coming from the middle park between Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen, Tierney's ability to stretch the field and give natural width opens up even more space for those two to operate in - something that doesn't happen as much with Rowe.
In my opinion, though, Kelyn Rowe will likely get the nod as the starter, but is that really the best option for the team? Had the Revolution been matched up against the Seattle Sounders, the case for Alston starting would most likely be stronger. With Seattle, Alston would be sorely needed to try and slow down DeAndre Yedlin. Even so, while LA might not have the speed Seattle does on the flanks, a drifting Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, and pacey Gyasi Zardes might make Heaps think twice. The good news for the Revolution is that either option is a strong one and whoever gets the nod to start will most likely reflect the team's overall game plan.