What Are They All About? LA Galaxy
New beginnings. This past weekend the Chicago Fire ended their preseason in victory, defeating the Charleston Battery 1-0 in the final match of the Carolina Challenge Cup. Fabian Hebers notched a goal for Chicago in a match that had the Fire’s attacking prowess on full display, a strength that was coupled with dominance in the midfield. Although they won’t take much solace from defeating a lower division side, Chicago will certainly be happy to end the preliminary stage of the season match fit and without injuries. Additionally, both Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic alluded to the potential of new arrivals this week which would bolster a good but thin squad. At the moment, things seem to be moving in a positive direction for Chicago, but their first real test will come this weekend for MLS First Kick against the LA Galaxy (7:00 pm CT on FS1).
The Galaxy enter this season on the back of a disappointing 2018 campaign which saw the five-time MLS Champions miss out on the playoffs in their very last match of the season. With their future in their own hands, they lost to Houston at home, a result that further cemented LA’s need for a rebuild. The ownership group hired Dennis te Kloese as the Galaxy’s new General Manager, the former head of the Mexican FA, and a man who built his legacy and identifying and growing Mexican youth prospects. With LA’s inability to transfer a talent rich area into significant first team minutes in recent years, the message on the club’s new direction was clear.
Taking the helm of the new project, Guillermo Barros Schelotto was pried away from Boca Juniors to join the league where he became an icon in Columbus. Although there hasn’t been significant movement in the transfer market as the project gets settled, those two figures have enough pedigree to ensure a secure foundation going forward. But for now, both sides have a fresh slate. Will the hosts leave no doubt on the field and return to the perch of MLS, or will the visitors show that they have turned a corner? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
LA Preseason Form Guide: L-D
Previous Result: A 3-1 home loss to the Colorado Rapids.
Formation: 4-4-2; Bingham; Feltscher, Steres, Polenta, Skjelvik; Alessandrini, Carrasco, Cuello, Antuna; Kamara, Ibrahimovic
Strengths: A club does not win five league titles without having a winning pedigree somehow built into its DNA. The Galaxy have not been impressive in recent memory, but this new project has the makings of something special. Let’s take a look at where they might succeed.
I Will Break All of the Records: LA’s newest DP, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, stated in a presser earlier this week that his Sophomore MLS season is going to be one to remember. After a stellar year last year—twenty-two goals and ten assists—Zlatan Ibrahimovic earned himself a pay raise. He was brought in last season after a knee surgery that might have been career altering for a normal human and he took the league by storm. His TAM deal, bolstered by commercials, appearances, and performance bonuses, was always going to increase and the only question is how many zeros were added to his salary. What isn’t in question is his threat level on the ball. When you add the fact that the Chicago backline is still building chemistry, Saturday could be disastrous for the Fire.
A las Chapas: The addition of Schelotto could be a game changer for some time to come. Known for a distinct quick moving style of play and holding players to a high standard, the Argentine might come as a shock to some in the Galaxy locker room. While officially, Boca and Schelotto did not renew his deal because of a mutual choice to go in different directions, reports in Argentina suggested that Schelotto was not entirely happy with the club’s leadership in the wake of the 2018 Copa Libertadores fiasco and wanted firmer backing for himself and the players. His mentality is unwavering, his dedication to preparing tactically borders on insanity, and he has a unique ability to get the most out of a squad and manage egos. He is a perfect fit for LA’s new direction.
Chicago should expect a 4-4-2 on Saturday that shifts between a midfield diamond to start and a flat four across the midfield when in the lead. High pressing when not on the ball and one or two touch passing across diagonal lines on the counter will be the norm in terms of tactics and an express threat on set pieces from their center backs moving forward alongside Zlatan will need to be addressed.
Weaknesses: As Chicago can attest to, distant history does not mean much in MLS 3.0. The Galaxy are heading into this campaign with a side that is virtually identical to the one that secured a poor finish last season and a fresh technical staff can only bring so much to the table.
Let’s see where they might struggle.
1, 2, 3 … 4?: Perhaps the biggest question mark heading into the opener is LA’s four DPs. Yes, you read that correctly, the hosts currently have one more designated player than the league allows for and they will need to find a solution before Friday’s roster compliance deadline. Zlatan’s aforementioned change in status along with the contracts of Jonathan dos Santos, Giovani dos Santos, and Romain Alessandrini mean that LA has some MLS rule bending to do in the coming days. Neither one of the dos Santos brothers featured against Colorado and finding a way to buy down or buy out Giovani’s contract seems like the best option for the technical staff, but convincing him otherwise may be a problem…
The familial ties also complicate the matter because although Gio has been a flop in performance and attitude, Jonathan was one of the only bright spots for LA last year. Alessandrini to Montreal has long been rumored as a potential solution but his dynamism on the field and love of Hollywood make this move difficult as well. No matter what the solution is, the entire scenario is not one that is good for the locker room and the league will come out looking a bit unprofessional if all four stay in LA.
The Elephant in the Room: As an extension of the aforementioned locker room drama, Giovani’s salary has long been an issue of contention behind the scenes as many players have outworked and out performed him on much less of a cap hit. For example, Ola Kamara’s recent demands for a pay bump or a trade cannot be unrelated to the for DP problem and his imminent transfer to the Chinese Superleague as a way to garner allocation money to be used on Gio cannot sit well with his teammates. LA and the league are stuck in a scenario where player power, roster rules, validity of contracts, and perceptions of the league’s standards will all come into question.
Glitz and Glam Up Front, Business as Usual in Back: This one is pretty straight forward. With sixty-four goals conceded last season, LA gave up the third most tallies in the Western conference. Feltscher. Steres, Cole, and Skjelvik looked like USL players at best while making significant money. Set pieces, build up play, counter attacks, own goals, you name it and we can find a highlight of it from last season. Although Ashely Cole has moved on, the remaining three players have started for LA in the preseason. If they don’t get reinforcements in quick, it could be a repeat of 2018.
Prediction: Guillermo Barros Schelotto will have plenty of time to remedy the situation that he inherited with this locker room, but he won’t get it done in time for Saturday’s encounter. The Fire will rain on Beckham’s parade. Chicago 3-2 LA. Nikolic, Katai, and Frankowski for the visitors, an Ibra brace for the hosts.