Carson, CA – The LA Galaxy have played five games at the friendly confines of StubHub Center in 2017. They’ve lost three of those five games, and have won just once – against a 10-man Montreal Impact team. They’ve captured just four points from a possible fifteen at home this season and have generally looked horrible.
That didn’t change on Saturday night in front of more than 25,000 fans as they faced off against the worst team in Major League Soccer – the Philadelphia Union — the only MLS team without a win in 2017. It was a 90-minute affair that was full of half chances and missed finishing, but ultimately fell far from entertaining and ended in a goalless draw.
“I thought we thoroughly outplayed the opponent,” Curt Onalfo commented after the game. “We possessed the ball well, moved the ball well, created plenty of goal-scoring chances. If one of those goes in early, it’s a totally different game.” And perhaps he’s right, it might have changed the game. But the goals didn’t come.
“Their (Philadelphia) tactic was to come in and defend and be dangerous on set pieces. I think that at times they looked dangerous on set pieces. But over the course of the game, I thought we performed and were the better team and fell short in terms of getting three points.” Curt Onalfo, LA Galaxy Head Coach
The Galaxy went with a change in formation on the night, bringing Baggio Husidic into the lineup in place of Gyasi Zardes who missed the game due to illness. The 4-2-3-1 formation was the same formation they transitioned to early in the game against Seattle. With Husidic and Joáo Pedro in the defensive midfield positions and Jermaine Jones, Romain Alessandrini and Emmanuel Boateng in more attacking roles. Giovani dos Santos started the game as the lone striker but would find freedom in his exact positioning throughout the night.
As a whole, the Galaxy dominated possession, holding the ball 64% of the game. But the finishing was far from exacting and tended to fizzle out just when things looked promising. Surprisingly, Pedro came the closest on the night when in the twenty-first minute his shot from about 25 yards pinged off the inside of both posts but refused to go in. Union goalkeeper, Andre Blake was clearly beaten and had no chance at catching up to it, but the ball didn’t cooperate for the Galaxy.
Pedro, who has drawn the ire of many Galaxy fans for his inconsistent and poor play, had one of his better nights – maybe even his best night. Pairing him with Husidic looks to have stabilized his positioning and has put him in more places to succeed. He finished the night with a pass completion percentage of over 84% and made three tackles. Second only to Bradley Diallo (6) who replaced Nathan Smith at right back and earned his second MLS start of 2017.
“Defensively we were pretty solid. I think the only chances they created were on set plays, so if we can minimize that and walk away with conceding zero goals,” midfielder Baggio Husidic commented after the game. “You have a chance to win a lot of games, so it’s a good start.”
And while the Galaxy were solid defensively, Husidic got it right, as they severely limiting the Union to dangerous chances and Galaxy goalkeeper Brian Rowe only had to make two saves, they fizzled offensively. This despite the fact the Galaxy outshot the Union 13 to eight on the night.
The simple fact is that the Galaxy choked in front of net too many times. They’re still without a goal from any striker from the run of play in 2017. Even while that position and who is playing it is sometimes a question mark. And they are now scoreless at home over the last 186 minutes. A stat that is sure to get looked at when they host another home game next week.
But they are creating chances, even if they aren’t finishing them. Two very good chances went wanting in this game. The first came when Boateng was able to corral a long pass in the thirty-second minute. He was able to dribble into the box but probably held the ball too long allowing a better angle by the goalkeeper. The ball was cut back toward the far post and Blake was just able to keep if from going past his outstretched legs.
The second clear cut opportunity came from Jermaine Jones when he found himself completely unmarked on a 54th-minute corner kick. The midfielder rose up to meet the ball with yards of space around him but put his header wide of the mark. Squandering another clear-cut goalscoring chance.
Dos Santos, on the night, was more active in the gameplan than in any other game in 2017. His positioning switched from the lone striker to anywhere he was able to find space. And for large periods of the game, Jones, Alessandrini, and even Boateng were positioned higher up the field than he. He provided a link to attacking midfielders that has been missing since the start of the season.
“No, not really. I’ve been through a lot of difficult times in my career and this is another one. So I know what I have to do and I know what kind of player I am and I know what kind of team we have. And as I said, we are the Galaxy. We have pressure every single game because we have to win and people respect us. We know our responsibility. We’re not playing well now, but we have to keep working.” Giovani dos Santos
But with Dos Santos further away from goal, he limited his own scoring chances and tried to play provider more than finisher. Outside of two early shots, any danger he provided was in passing form and not shooting. But this was an improvement in both work rate and combination that I think any Galaxy fan would be happy to see.
Jones is the bigger question on the night. Pushed into the ten position he was a provider early on, and a finisher when Dos Santos dropped back into midfield to start plays. And his lack of finishing hurt the Galaxy on the night. With two midfielders stationed behind him – Husidic and Pedro – most of his defensive responsibility was taken away. But the questions will remain, is Jones the type of attacking midfielder the Galaxy need? Or is Dos Santos the guy who should be playing closest to goal? It’s a question that Curt Onalfo has yet to successfully answer. And it’s an answer that needs to be found quickly. The goals aren’t coming.
The Galaxy continue to feel the league running away from them. They’re off to their worst start since 2007 – a season where they only had six points after eight games. They currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference with just seven points, while being outscored 13 to eight in that span.
“We have a group that, let’s be honest, we feel pressure,” said Onalfo after the game. And he’s not the only one to say it.
Dos Santos was also weary of the mounting criticism. And while he stated he didn’t feel the pressure himself, he knew it was there. “We have pressure every single game because we have to win and people respect us. We know our responsibility. We’re not playing well now, but we have to keep working.”
The Galaxy are a team without a true goal scorer right now. Even Alessandrini, who has been marked heavily in the last two games, isn’t putting the ball into the back of the net. And the strikers aren’t doing it either. Jack McInerney got his first brief minutes with the team late in the game but was unable to get anything even remotely dangerous to fall his way.
The three-game homestand will conclude next weekend when the Galaxy will host the Chicago Fire. So far, the team has earned just one point from two games – losing to Seattle and drawing with the Union. So anything short of three points against the Fire would be a disaster. As the Galaxy will then leave for a four-game road trip.
The Galaxy front office and Curt Onalfo may be given the briefest of respites from the growing concern to make changes. But that voice can only be softened for so long. Results need to turn around quickly. This game didn’t change that.
The LA Galaxy (2-5-1, 7 points) played to a 0-0 draw with Philadelphia Union (0-4-4, 5 points) on Saturday, April 29 at StubHub Center. The draw is their first of the season.
LA Galaxy Head Coach Curt Onalfo made two changes from the Galaxy’s Starting XI last weekend against Seattle: Bradley Diallo and Baggio Husidic started in place of Nathan Smith and Gyasi Zardes.
With the shutout, LA Galaxy earned their second shutout of the season. Both shutouts have been at home.
With their starts, João Pedro, Romain Alessandrini, and Daniel Steres remain the only three players to have started each game for the LA Galaxy in 2017 (8).
LA Galaxy were without Gyasi Zardes, who was sidelined with an illness. The Galaxy continue to miss Robbie Rogers (left foot), Sebastian Lletget (foot) and Clement Diop (hip) due to injury.
Romain Alessandrini continues to lead the Galaxy in goals (four). Alessandrini, Boateng and Jones all co-lead the team with two assists each.
In the last five years, LA have now gone 44-10-20 at StubHub Center while scoring 153 goals and allowing just 64 (+95 goal differential).
This year at home, the Galaxy have gone 1-3-1, scoring three goals and allowing six.
All-time, the Galaxy are now 6-1-2 against Philadelphia. In home matches against the Union, LA is now 4-1-0.
In their last matchup with the Union at StubHub Center, LA defeated Philadelphia 5-1. Last season, the two sides played to a 2-2 draw at Philadelphia
Next, the LA Galaxy return to StubHub Center to take on Chicago Fire at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 6. The match will be broadcast live on Spectrum SportsNet.