What Are They All About? LA Galaxy
The speculative road form, in terms of results continues. This past weekend the Chicago Fire fell 2-1 against the New York Red Bulls in New Jersey. The match saw the sides split possession but Chicago created more scoring opportunities, putting twice as many shots on target as the home side. Fire supporters were left scratching their heads as the better side seemed to leave with nothing. However, MLS is a league especially known for throwing the notion of “deserving points” out the window and Chicago can protest and posture all they want as the continue to slip in the standings. They’ll have a chance at redemption as they round off a three match away stint against a struggling LA Galaxy side this Saturday (9:30 CT kick off on CSN). If they beat LA, they could find themselves sitting as high as fourth in the East at the final whistle. If they lose, they could be in the all too familiar tenth slot of the Eastern Conference by Sunday evening.
Chicago hasn’t gone to Carson and won since Carlos de los Cobos marshalled the Fire to a 3-2 win in August of 2010 but this LA Galaxy side is not what you would expect from a franchise that has lifted the MLS Cup five times. The league is forgiving in many ways and it has been proven that poor starts can be turned around, but neither one of these sides will want to let any more points slip at this stage. It won’t be season defining, but this match will be about character, endurance, and grit. Will the much-touted values of the Process come to the fore, or will Curt Onalfo and the Galaxy finally live up to their Hollywood tag? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
LA Form Guide (last five matches): D-L-L-W-L
Previous Result: A 0-0 draw at home against Philadelphia Union.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; Rowe; Diallo, Steres, Van Damme, Cole; Husidic, Joao Pedro; Alessandrini, Jones, Boateng; dos Santos
Strengths: Before we get to a section dedicated to doom and gloom, we must remember that we are talking about one of MLS’ most successful franchises. They have committed ownership, the ability to sell potential players on location, lifestyle, and support, a legendary past that provides a certain glow, and a swagger that comes with being based in LA. Their struggles could be momentary as their squad has the quality to snap out of this slump at any moment. Let’s see where they might succeed.
Bonjour Monsieur Alessandrini: A microcosm of the above mystique is LA’s courtship and signature of Romain Alessandrini from Olympique de Marseille. Looking for a career reviving opportunity brought the winger to MLS and he has fully earned the praised heaped upon him this season. He has started in all eight of the Galaxy’s matches, notching four goals and two assists in that time. A collection of speed, technical ability on the ball, clinical finishing, and a unique ability to curve set pieces into the top corner are within his skill set. Perhaps more importantly, his will to win shone through in his rejection of Chinese Super League money and the comfort of mid-table mediocrity with St. Etienne (both rumored moves). LA’s chances of dragging themselves out of the mud rest heavily on the shoulders of the new arrival.
Tactical Switch: After playing the last several matches in a flat 4-4-2 (reminiscent of Onalfo’s DC coaching days), LA switched to a 4-2-3-1 against Philly. The change payed off immediately with LA enjoying 65% possession, thirteen shots, six shots on target and an 85% pass completion rate, numbers they hadn’t seen all season. This formation will be the likely one against Chicago as well, and it should be further boosted by the return of Gyasi Zardes. Zardes missed the last match through illness but his inclusion in this week’s match might see Jermaine Jones shifted into a box to box roll alongside Joao Pedro, allowing dos Santo to be withdrawn into his preferred second striker/creative outlet roll. Zardes’ positioning up top seems like the smart move given the lack of pace LA showed in his absence and the struggles that Chicago’s back line has had in containing lone strikers over their last two matches. If there is a bit of respite for this LA side it will surely be found against the likes of Meira and Harrington (unless of course Conner gets the nod for Chicago).
Good Things Will Come: In a midweek interview with Adam Serrano, Giovani dos Santos dug into his past a bit by sharing that LA’s struggles are not new to him and that he is prepared to offer advice and guidance to some of the youngsters and stars who are facing a new challenge. Failed adaptation to Barcelona’s senior team, a bizzare four years at Tottenham which saw him loaned to Ipswich, Galatasaray, and Racing Santander, and limited appearances for Mallorca reflect his troubled career. Although this may seem like a premature weakness, dos Santos’ firm assertions that hard-work, belief, and a reinvigorated sense of responsibility can make a world of difference may indeed be a way out for the Galaxy. Whether he can put his words into practice is yet to be seen, but there seems to be a defiant sense of hope present within the Mexican starlet.
Desperation is a Powerful Tool: New York Red Bull, Minnesota, San Jose, and DC. That is the road trip that looms for LA after this weekend’s encounter before they host a resurrected Houston Dynamo side. Should they fail to secure three points against Chicago they may go into panic mode knowing they have managed to pick up just one result on the road this season, barley scraping by against a poor RSL side. They will not want to be in that scenario and it could come through in their commitment on Saturday.
Weaknesses: At the end of the day, soccer is not played on paper and it certainly isn’t played with rosters compiled from past winning sides. The changes that LA underwent this offseason have truly devastated the franchise and we have not seen a team this disinterested in their coach’s plan in a long time. Despite the plethora of chances created against Philadelphia at the weekend, the most indicative gestures came off the ball. Jermaine Jones was kicking posts and confronting the referee, dos Santos’ shoulders slumped in a way reminiscent of his European failures, Alessandrini introduced us to some new French words, and Joao Pedro’s look after seeing his shot bounce off of both posts and out was worthy of a Tony Award. Curt Onalfo could barely look at Jim Curtin as he walked to the tunnel with the glaring 0-0 scoreboard at his back. This is LA’s reality at the moment and all indications are that their frustration will continue at the weekend. Let’s see where they will struggle.
What Do You Mean I’m Not on the List?: LA currently find themselves in tenth place of the Western Conference. It is a spot they aren’t used to but also one that is the product of their own shortsightedness. All teams go through rebuilding years, but the losses that the Galaxy have suffered in terms of personnel are quite remarkable. The departure list included backline stalwarts Dan Kennedy, Leonardo, and AJ DelaGarza; goal scoring veterans Mike Magee, Alan Gordon, and Robbie Keane; the re-retirement of Landon Donovan; and seat filler Steven Gerrard’s departure after just eighteen months. Aside from the aforementioned Alessandrini, the cast of characters that have been given major roles is questionable. Thirty-five-year-old Jermaine Jones is being asked to serve as a creative midfielder in his homecoming season, Joao Pedro’s arrival from Vitoria Guimaraes has been suspect at best, and despite his midweek interview, the increased leadership cast upon Giovanni do Santos has reinvigorated portrayals of the Mexican as childish and disinterested in tough scenarios. The chemistry and the will just don’t seem to be there this season (perhaps best exemplified by Cyle Larin’s stoppage time winner that snuck in as LA had already mentally settled for a point).
Worse yet, the impending arrival of LAFC exacerbates these shortcomings. With a seemingly endless list of contributing-partners, a truly Hollywoodian budget, and a stadium project estimated at $350 million, the Galaxy’s new neighbors are slowly casting a shadow on the Carson outfit. You may be thinking that this has nothing to do with the match on Saturday, but at the professional level, not everything is about tactics and training. The very identity of this Galaxy side is at stake and they seem to be crumbling under the pressure.
You’re Not My Real Dad: The biggest offseason personnel blow came in terms of the coaching staff. LA Galaxy legend Bruce Arena departed the club to take the USMNT coaching position in their hopes to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. In his stead, LA promoted Curt Onalfo from within (Onalfo coached LA II last season) and hired former club captain Peter Vegenas as General Manager and Vice President of Soccer Operations. Replacing a personality as big as Bruce Arena is never going to be easy, but despite full faith from the front office, Onalfo has struggled even more than expected. Perhaps frequent visits from Arena to scout the USMNT player pool don’t help, but the air in LA is becoming toxic. Onalfo looked completely dejected during his midweek press conference and admitted the tension floating around the club. We don’t like to dabble in drama, but if LA losses this one they may look to replace Onalfo before LA departs on a trying four match road stint.
Uninspired Defensive Performances: The strengths section discussed LA’s performance against Philadelphia as a reinvigorated display, and yet they still drew 0-0 against the league’s worst team… The missing shooting boots encapsulated LA’s form recently but the clean sheet masked the glaring defensive mistakes that have typified LA’s season. The Steres/van Damme center back partnership has not gelled properly this season as they have yet to figure out how to hold a unified line and continue to struggle with good deliveries into the box. Against Seattle they gave up a few nervy chances from set pieces, allowed Seattle ample space at the center of the box, and saw Dempsey provide an early headed lead.
The outside backs are not helping them much either as Ashely Cole and Nathan Smith have struggled at opposite ends of their career. Cole looks sluggish and out of sorts this season allowing for continued delivery from the flanks and highlighted his comedic performance against Seattle with an own goal. Smith, an Onalfo LA II product, was given a homegrown contract and has started five matches for the Galaxy. His lack of adaptability led to Bradley Dialo’s appearance against Philly, but the lack of probing from the Union means the jury is still out on his ability. These struggles encapsulate LA’s identity crisis: they haven’t hit the mark with their high-profile acquisitions and their academy is producing questionable talent. How far will the Galaxy fall?
Prediction: We’re not ready to put the Kool Aid down yet. If Chicago manages a win in this one they will have averaged a point per match on their road stint, something quite acceptable indeed. Chicago 2-0 LA. Nemanja Nikolic with an early goal and Luis Solignac with the stoppage time insurance.