The LA Galaxy
The second game of their first two-game road trip will put the Galaxy (7-2-1) in Columbus, Ohio as they take on Crew SC (4-6-1) on Wednesday night at Mapfre Stadium (4:30 p.m. PT; Spectrum SN).
Here are the big storylines to watch for this midweek matchup.
FIXING THE DEFENSIVE ISSUES
The Galaxy gave up three goals to the New York Red Bulls last weekend in their first loss since March. It was also the first time in 2019 that the club had given up more than two goals and was the first time, since their loss to FC Dallas on the road, that they allowed the first goal.
There were some holes in the Galaxy’s defensive scheme against the Red Bulls, and that has more than one person thinking back to the 2017 and 2018 seasons when the Galaxy’s defense was one of the worst in the league and allowed 131 goals combined during those seasons.
The most significant issues against New York seemed to be the midfield staying disconnected from the back line. And that allowed two of the Red Bull’s three goals to be scored from the center of the box, just above the penalty spot.
Against Columbus, and a dangerous tandem of Federico Higuain and former Galaxy Homegrown Player Gyasi Zardes, the Galaxy will need to do better.
Midfielders Jonathan dos Santos, Joe Corona, and Sebastian Lletget need to stop counter attacks and chase the ball deeper towards the Galaxy’s goal when multiple attackers force the defense to retreat.
The Galaxy will score goals, but they can’t allow the first goal, and they can’t get into a wide-open game as they did against the Red Bulls.
Even with Columbus on a five-game losing streak, and even while they’ve been outscored 10 to 2 in that span, the Galaxy defense can’t afford another loose, tactical game.
The Galaxy will be playing their second game in four days and will end up making it three times in eight days before the week is over (LA vs. NYCFC on Saturday, May 11; 1 p.m.; ESPN).
And judging by how they finished out the game against the Red Bulls, they’re going to be tired. That means that Galaxy Head Coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto may start to manage some minutes during the midweek game, even when the options to do so seem limited.
His only real choices for rotation are likely to come on the defense. At right-back, he could swap Rolf Feltscher for Julian Araujo. Araujo traveled with the team as he now seems fully recovered from an ankle injury and showed well in his nearly 200 minutes played this season.
Additionally, the Galaxy could return Jorgen Skjelvik to the left-back position in place of Diedie Traore. Traore has started the last two games and has been one of Galaxy’s best defenders, but his early exit from last week’s game, with leg cramps, might be enough of a sign he needs some rest.
And Finally, Giancarlo “Pipo” Gonzalez could slot in for Dan Steres at center back in a move that has been anticipated since the Galaxy landed the Costa Rican defender in the middle of April. Everyone knows that Gonzalez will eventually be the starter at that position, but it seemed that Schelotto was waiting for Steres to slip up a bit to have a reason. That reason could be squad rotation and the defense’s lousy performance last week.
Finally, the Galaxy could swap Chris Pontius for Emmanuel Boateng and let Pontius come off the bench while Boateng starts, but that hasn’t worked well so far this year. And until Favio Alvarez is embedded with the club, the Galaxy are still light on attacking options.
Where you won’t see squad rotation is with 37-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And that comes down to two simple factors: the Galaxy don’t have anyone to replace him, and he’s scoring a lot of goals. Schelotto will simply ride Ibrahimovic until Ibrahimovic waves him off.
FIRST PLACE ON THE LINE
The Galaxy have a chance at taking over the Western Conference, and overall league leads on points if they can beat the Crew on Wednesday night.
And that puts the Galaxy in a position that few thought they would recover to after ridiculously poor seasons in 2017 and 2018.
But because they are the only Western Conference team to be playing midweek, and because they sit just two points shy of crosstown rivals LAFC (22 points), a victory in Columbus would see the Galaxy head into their weekend match with a one-point lead.
But the match has lots of other exciting sidebars to it that could play a role in whether or not the Galaxy can get all three points and walk away as the new leaders in MLS.
First, Schelotto is returning “home.” Schelotto spent four seasons with the Crew (2007-2010) and walked away with an MLS Cup in 2008 (won at the Home Depot Center), and an MLS Cup MVP. He’s one of the most decorated player in Crew history and was a vital part of their success during his time with the club.
He’ll want to make a good showing in front of his former club, and that could motivate the Galaxy even more as they strive for first place.
But on the other side of the bench, will sit Caleb Porter. The coach who was very nearly the Galaxy’s head coach instead of Schelotto. Just a disagreement over the contract length kept him from taking the job. Will he want to show the Galaxy what they didn’t want to pay for?
The Galaxy will depart Columbus on Wednesday night as they’ll charter a flight back to Los Angeles where they’ll prepare for their Saturday match against NYCFC. But they’ll probably feel less tired if they’re in first place in the league on the flight home.