The LA Galaxy will face another difficult test on Saturday night when they travel to Commerce, Colorado in search or their tenth straight game without a loss against the Colorado Rapids (6:00 p.m.; SpectrumSN, Spectrum Deportes).
But while these two clubs currently sit on the opposite side of the Western Conference table — with the Galaxy (10-7-5) sitting in third place and the Rapids (4-12-5) sitting in 11th — there are no easy games in a league constantly being adjusted for parity.
The Galaxy are coming off a 4-3 come-from-behind win over Orlando City that saw superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic score three second-half goals en route to his first MLS hat trick and a Player of the Week nod. But Ibrahimovic will be “suspended” for the match due to skipping out on the turf in Atlanta for the MLS All-Star game and has, therefore, run afoul of an MLS policy. Ibrahimovic leads the Galaxy’s offense having scored 15 goals and six assists.
The Rapids, who are winless in their last five games, have only won four games all year, and who haven’t won since a July 1 match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, are headed in a different direction offensively. They just traded leading goalscorer Dominique Badji (7 goals) to FC Dallas. In return, the Rapids received Kellyn Acosta — with Acosta scoring the only goal of a 2-1 loss at DC United on July 28.
Former Galaxy homegrown player Jack McBean, with two goals on the season for the Rapids, provided the assist to Acosta.
Jonathan dos Santos, after playing 30 minutes in the All-Star game flew directly to Colorado for this match. He will meet the rest of his teammates who left to cross the Rocky Mountains on Friday — a calculated late departure to the high altitude of Colorado.
The Galaxy are likely to focus on keeping the same team shape without Ibrahimovic up top to bail them out. That could mean either Romain Alessandrini or Chris Pontius start up top with Ola Kamara. With the other dropping back into the midfield.
This could also necessitate a big change in the way the team plays. Instead of just lobbing balls up to Ibrahimovic’s head, the Galaxy will need to play more of a ground game and keep more possession instead of being overly direct.
But the big question mark isn’t about an offense that can still produce a ton of goal without Ibrahimovic, it’s about how Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid is attempting to fix the defense.
Ashley Cole was perplexed and upset after last weekend’s victory. Citing the continued failure of the defense to keep the ball out of the back of their own net — the most simplistic of defensive evaluations. But there doesn’t seem to be much question of who will start on the backline that comprises three center backs — Dave Romney, Michael Ciani, and Jorgen Skjelvik — and Cole in a role that sees him move forward into the midfield and then back onto the back line. It’s where he’s been having the most trouble covering ground, in those transition areas between defense and attack.
The good news for the Galaxy is that they’re nearly fully healthy. With only right-back, Rolf Feltscher still out with any type of injury. Although, Feltscher’s status has now changed to being medically cleared to return from his torn pectoral muscle. But game fitness means he’ll be targeting the middle of August rather than this weekend’s match.
Sebastian Lletget is healthy again and should be ready to fill in for Jonathan or Giovani dos Santos should the need arise. And the elder dos Santos, Gio, has been quietly raising his level of play since returning from the World Cup with Mexico. Giovani dos Santos ended his 65 minutes of work over last weekend with a goal and an assist.
While the Galaxy defense has been abysmal, the Galaxy offense has been outstanding. Scoring an MLS high 27 goals in their last 10 games and rising past a number of opponents on their unbeaten streak.
But the Rapids are a dangerous team to get complacent with. Acosta is a dangerous piece for them and their defense is no worse than the Galaxy’s. Add in the high altitude and the travel, and the Galaxy’s normal “second-half comeback” could be stifled by tired legs and burning lungs. This is not a game the Galaxy want to allow the first goal in. Nearly all of the Rapids’ success comes from scoring first (3-1-3) and at high altitude that would make the Galaxy chase the game. A tiring proposition.
The Galaxy are now within a stretch of games that will see them play the Rapids twice in quick succession, and also face off against Minnesota United. All three of these games are big chances at three points. So when the Galaxy are focusing on this first game against the Rapids, they’re keenly aware of their need to walk away with victories and not draws or losses.