What Are They All About? LA Galaxy
The streak is over. After 39 away matches without a win the Chicago Fire defeated the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo this past Saturday. An emphatic 3-0 score line insured that Chicago left that haunting streak behind them in style. The players and coaching staff celebrated as if they had just won a tournament but the two year curse arguably warranted such celebration. However, both in times of sorrow and times of joy MLS does not allow for prolonged thought on results. A quick trip back across the border, one re-gen day and one full practice day later the Fire will be back in action as the Los Angeles Galaxy visit Toyota Park.
Bruce Arena and his tan men in white haven’t exactly hit rock bottom but they currently find themselves in the middle of an uncharacteristic spell of matches. While their PR team has spun reality to highlight that their recent loss in NYC ended a nine match league unbeaten run, the truth of the matter is that they haven’t won any of their last five matches across all competitions. That streak includes a heartbreaking extra time exit from the US Open Cup at the semifinal stage against Dallas. Two consecutive road matches against Eastern Conference opposition may be convenient as far as scheduling is concerned but Toyota Park has been somewhat of a fortress of late and LA is catching Chicago at an interesting time.
Chicago is unbeaten at home in their last ten matches and any glimmer of playoff hope depends on them building momentum over the next few matches. In addition to the playoffs, contract extensions, international qualifiers, and potential overseas transfers loom large for this Chicago side and impressions need to be made all around. The air surrounding Bridgeview on Wednesday will be full of hope, frustration, opportunity, desperation and perhaps even a little bit of magic. Will the LA Galaxy leapfrog into fourth in the West and extend their cushion to nine points above the red line, or will Chicago climb out of last place for the first time since April?
LA Form Guide (Last 5 competitive matches): L-D-L-D-D
Previous Match: A 1-0 away loss to NYCFC.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; Diop; Cole, van Damme, Steres, DeLaGarza; Husidic, de Jong; Zardes, Gerrard, dos Santos; Keane
Strengths: You don’t need to go much further than scanning the LA roster to come up with some positive talking points about the Galaxy… Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Nigel de Jong, Ashley Cole, Jelle van Damme and Giovani dos Santos have all featured in the UEFA Champions League at one point in their careers and while we will save the “retirement league” discussion for other forums, it is undeniable that they bring a wealth of talent and experience to Arena’s team. Let’s see where they have thrived on the pitch.
A Truly Dynamic Squad: The biggest strength exhibited by LA in our eyes is their ability to be dangerous from multiple avenues. Although they have produced five different line ups in their last five competitive matches LA has none the less continued to be an attacking threat.
Whether it is dangerous Gerrard set pieces that seek out the likes of van Damme and Steres, intricate build up between Baggio Husidic and Dos Santos, brilliant solo runs from Gyassi Zardes or Emmanuel Boateng, overloading the wings with help from Cole and DeLaGarza, the complete dominance of midfield by de Jong, or the exquisite finishing from Keane, this LA side will find a way onto the score sheet.
Those by the way were not poetic examples but rather real occurrences taken from LA’s last five matches. The Galaxy have had twelve different goal scorers this season and twelve different players have notched assists. No matter what lineup Arena goes with on Wednesday there will be an attacking threat somewhere on the pitch that will hope to put LA atop the “Goals For” category in the Western Conference table.
Road Warriors: While they might not always win on the road the Galaxy has a decent record on their travels. They’ve won three, lost four and tied five of their encounters away from the Stub Hub Center. The only team that has lost less on the road is Colorado and only NYCFC and Toronto have earned more points from away matches. It is clear that the Galaxy expect at least a point on the road and they’ll be looking for nothing less in Chicago.
Bruce Arena: MLS recently released a short about the league’s winningest coach and no matter your opinion about his on field tactics or his media antics, respect must be shown to the league great. He can get the best out of any player and confidence building, tactical awareness and the execution of game plans are all in his wheel house. He’s a joy to watch on the sideline, always has a quote or two in him and his five MLS Cups, three Supporters’ Shields and one Open Cup speak for themselves. Paunovic has been touted as a tactical genius by many but he will certainly be tested on Wednesday.
Unlucky: You may not believe that there is such a thing as luck in professional sports, but the Galaxy seem to be testing that theory lately. They arguably could have had six points from their last two matches against NYCFC and Colorado but instead they left both encounters with hands on hips and a sum total of just one point.
They statistically dominated the Colorado match in terms of shots, SOG, possession, passes, pass completion successful tackles, duels won and chances missed. Heroic saves from Howard, near misses from typically clinical finishers and a few missed calls really hurt LA in that one. The NYCFC game wasn’t much different as the only stat that they were edged out on was shot attempts. An absolutely mind boggling miss by Nigel de Jong could have leveled the match while Robbie Keane and Jelle van Damme both came agonizingly close to saving LA’s blushes as well. At the end of the day results are results but the Galaxy might have a chip on their shoulder on Wednesday that could prove dangerous for Chicago.
History: Chicago has failed to win against LA since 2010 and haven’t beaten the Galaxy at Toyota Park since 2008. Chicago has shown that history doesn’t have to rule the future but this is a streak that will be tough to break.
Weaknesses: Once again, soccer is never played on paper. Names on a team sheet do not always win matches. Let’s take a look at where they have struggled.
Bang for their Buck: it has become quite evident that many of the stars brought in by the Front Office are falling short of the mark. For example, Robbie Keane has averaged around 18 goals per season since arriving in LA. The 2016 season is almost at the three quarter mark and the Irishman has notched just seven goals this campaign. Sure, he featured for his nation at the European Championships and has had a few injury spells but that is no excuse for a player of his caliber. Maybe his inability to link up with anyone other than dos Santos this season is taking its toll, or perhaps the 36 year old is coming to the end of his tenure with the Galaxy.
Giovani dos Santos has definitely paid for himself in a financial sense with the sales of shirts and extra media presence but his on field performances have not been anything to brag about lately. We know Chicago has no right to talk about failed DPs but Gio has featured for roughly 2500 MLS minutes thus far in his Galaxy stay and has notched just 11 goals… A goal every 230 minutes is not exactly awe inspiring, much less the return Bruce Arena envisioned from spry 27 year old.
By comparison Sebastian Lletget has scored every 340 minutes in roughly the same amount of time and he cost just $50,000 in league allocation funny money. An even better parallel is Mike Magee’s 1 goal/196 minute ratio. The former Fire player and Chicago native returned to LA as part of this year’s first ever MLS Free Agent class.
The point is that LA’s big name signings have not panned out in the most optimal way. Sure van Damme, de Jong and Ashely Cole were shrewdly acquired but many of the youngsters and seemingly fringe players have out played them. There is a fine line between giving foreign players adjustment time and attempting to salvage pride in your decisions. With LA sitting in fifth Bruce Arena is definitely tip toeing in front of that line.
Lineup Choices: Speaking of problems with personnel, LA will have some interesting decisions to make on Wednesday. Three matches in seven days have forced the Galaxy into a bit of squad rotation. Vancouver visit the Stub Hub center later this week and LA will know that points against Western Conference opposition go a lot further at this point of the season. Goal keeper Brian Rowe missed the NYCFC match due to a head injury while Robbie Rogers underwent ankle surgery at the end of June meaning that the partially aging Galaxy have fewer options in this match.
Managing minutes will be key to Arena’s success this week and while we’d never say that a weakened LA line up would be an easy target for Chicago, the Fire will have to fancy their chances against the likes of Jeff Larentowicz, Leonardo, Alan Gordon and Raul Mendiola more than they would against the regular starters. Those players lack speed and perhaps even some game sharpness, a definite window of opportunity for the attacking trio of David Accam, Michael de Leeuw and Luis Solignac.
Prediction: The Fire’s undefeated home streak continues but they won’t take all three points. . Chicago 3-3 LA. The Men in Red continue their hot form on the back of goals by Solignac, Accam and Meira. Mike Magee and Husidic score for LA without celebration while Robbie Keane does what they pay him Keane-money for. Former New England Revolution midfielder Jeff Larentowicz sees red early in this one.