It’s been a series of ups and downs through the first five games of the season for the LA Galaxy. They won their first game, lost their second, tied their third, won their fourth and lost their last game against Sporting KC at home. And they’re hoping that as the team gets healthier that they’ll start to find some familiarity and consistency in their game.
The Galaxy (2-2-1) will travel to Chicago on Saturday to face off against the Chicago Fire (1-2-1) in front of a sold-out Toyota Park in hopes of finding their first win away from home in 2018 (12:30 PM, Univision, Twitter).
And they’ll be buoyed by the fact they returned midfielders Romain Alessandrini and Jonathan dos Santos to the starting lineup last game, and will likely make Sebastian Lletget available for the start after last week’s substitute appearance. Defender Michael Ciani may also be ready to reprise his starting role after going off injured in the first half of the Galaxy’s 2-1 loss to NYC.
However, the Galaxy will still be missing midfielder Giovani dos Santos with a hamstring injury and who just rejoined the team at training earlier this week, and forward Bradford Jamieson IV (cleared concussion protocol). Giovani dos Santos may be ready for the Galaxy’s next home game against Atlanta United and Jamieson may start to get some time with LA Galaxy II.
The last two times these teams met, each scored goals but ultimately had to settle for a point each (2016 2-2, 2017 2-2). But there hasn’t been an outright winner in this game since March of 2015 when the Galaxy won 2-0 at StubHub Center and the Fire haven’t defeated the Galaxy since August of 2010 – a 3-2 victory.
The weather might also play a factor in this game. Chicago is expected to be hit with wind, rain, and possibly even thunderstorms on Saturday. So how the field will hold up and whether this game starts on time will certainly be something to watch.
Under beautiful skies and perfect weather against Sporting, the Galaxy executed an almost perfect gameplan (emphasis on almost). But two defensive lapses in the second half and an MLS Player of the Week win from Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia who made 10 saves on the night, kept the Galaxy off the board and well away from three points.
The big news is that Zlatan Ibrahimovic will travel for his first away game in Galaxy kit. And while arguments about MLS travel will certainly be stirred by the thoughts of the 6-foot-5 superstar traveling in first class on a commercial flight, it’s unlikely to affect his position of starting this game on the bench. But it is likely Ibrahimovic will get an earlier introduction to the game than his 30-minutes he got last week, and the Swedish-born striker could even see a full 45-minutes this time around.
The Fire have their own superstar playing in this match as Bastian Schweinsteiger – a former Manchester United teammate of Ibrahimovic’s – will be suiting up in red and, if last week was any indication, could reprise the sweeper role that so confidently shut down the Columbus Crew. That may mean some one-on-one marking with Ibrahimovic.
Nemanja Nikolić, the 2017 MLS Golden Boot winner, also seems to figure prominently in this match. The Fire’s leading goal scorer with four goals will test the inconsistent and slow defense for the Galaxy and should cause some considerable headaches for defender Jorgen Skjelvik.
Overall, Saturday’s match will come down to just one thing for the Galaxy: can they maintain focus long enough on defense, to allow their offense to stay in the game?
Forward Ola Kamara will need to get his best foot forward, and Alessandrini, Lletget, Emmanuel Boateng, and anyone else in that midfield will need to start finding the runs of the 28-year-old Norwegian. Because the Galaxy need big things out of him this year if they’re going to start to succeed on the field.
And don’t be surprised when Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid decides to throw a wrinkle into the starting lineup. This team is still not 100-percent healthy and some big names could still move on and off the bench. That puts some added burden on the depth the club worked so hard in the offseason to develop.
Can the Galaxy win in Chicago? Absolutely. But they’re going to need to start learning how to play together. This is a disjointed team and that’s mostly because they’re not used to each other yet. Those early season injuries took their toll.
Look for a better team effort across 90 minutes, and watch for those bad turnovers that allow the Fire to counter-attack. That’s where the Galaxy have been getting beat, and that’s where their biggest focus should be against a talented team.