Central midfield pairing key to LA’s title run

Central midfield pairing key to LA’s title run

  • Posted by Chris Thomas
  • On September 12, 2010
  • Dema Kovalenko, Juninho

Dema Kovalenko is helping LA go for the Supporter's Shield. (Getty Images)

By Chris Thomas

The Los Angeles Galaxy currently boasts maybe the most unlikely cast of midfielders of any MLS squad. With over 9 World Cup appearances the Galaxy’s collection of midfielders certainly isn’t short on quality, however the backgrounds of those players couldn’t be more diverse. You have promising young players just beginning their careers, international stars and MLS stalwarts finishing theirs and perhaps MLS greatest ever player at the height of his powers.

Take for example LA’s two central midfielders in Saturday’s match against Columbus. Prowling in front of the defense was Dema Kovalenko, a 33-year-old Ukrainian defensive midfielder, the MLS’s equivalent of Vinnie Jones, who is known mostly for his leg breaking tackles and the Soviet Bloc sized chip on his shoulder. Pairing him in the center of the Home Depot Center pitch was the impossibly elegant and dainty Juninho.

A product of the Brazilian club, Sao Paulo’s famed youth academy, the diminutive
Brazilian plays the role of deep lying playmaker as well as anyone in the league. He is all Joga Bonita, with his short, creative passes and the ability to play the killer assist or fire in the odd long-range goal.

These two players seem as different as any two players in the league. Yet the pairing was impeccable against the workhorse midfield of the Columbus Crew. In fact, the two reversed their roles quite spectacularly in the first half as Juninho was lucky to stay on the pitch after he stamped nastily on Steven Lenhart, and then Dema scored a goal full of South American flair when he continued a run from midfield and slotted home a perfectly weighted Landon Donovan pass. The two bossed the match all night long, marking Guillermo Barros Schelloto out of the game and continually setting up dangerous counter attacks for Los Angeles.

The Galaxy has struggled to find a consistent central midfield partnership all season. Chris Birchall, Jovan Kirovski, Landon Donovan and the two Michaels, Magee and Stephens, have all tried their luck there at one point in the season. This is incredibly unusual for a club that currently boasts the best record in the league. Think of how constant Real Salt Lake’s midfield diamond has lined up this year. Yet Bruce Arena has seemed to found a winning combination now.

This pairing will have added benefits to the makeup of the rest of the midfield as well. It will free Landon Donovan from a playmaker role and let him get into the more advanced positions that make him such a goal scoring threat in this league. It will also allow David Beckham to move back into his natural right midfield position where he has played nearly his entire career and where he will be allowed to ease back into fitness from his long injury layoff.

As unusual of a midfield pairing as the surly Eastern European and the mercurial
Brazilian appear to be, Dema Kovalenko and juninho, give the Galaxy the central
midfield that the club has been looking for all season and another reason why they might again find themselves in the MLS Cup final in 2010.