For good or bad, the LA Galaxy’s fate in the standings this season will ultimately be determined by how the Galaxy matches up against a team that is, in many ways, its diametric opposite – FC Dallas. The first of two October league matches between the two teams is slated for this Saturday at 6 p.m. (PT) in Frisco, Texas.
In many ways, FC Dallas has been superstar of MLS this season. Óscar Pareja’s team stands atop the Supporter’s Shield race with four points betwixt it and its nearest competitor, Toronto FC. FC Dallas has already collected silverware this season after besting the New England Revolution in the 2016 U.S. Open Cup on September 13, 2016. The Lone Star attacking behemoth is situated to shoot for the treble this season – if they captured the MLS Cup, Supporter’s Shield and Open Cup this year, it would be the first time in league history that a team has done so.
Updated SPI Supporters' Shield projections:
62% DAL (was 57%)
25% COL (23%)
6% TOR (13%)
— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) September 29, 2016
The Galaxy’s pole position is much less assured. Team Hollywood is currently tied with the Colorado Rapids in the Western Conference on points but Colorado has two games in hand over LA, which makes it highly likely that Colorado will finish second in the West, leaving the LA Galaxy to duke it out with Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City, the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers for the remaining playoff spots, as it is statistically improbable that Vancouver, San Jose or Houston will reach the playoffs this year.
Updated SPI projections for last 3 West playoff spots:
73% SEA (was 60%)
46% POR (51%)
2% SJ (7%)
— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) September 29, 2016
This is hardly a position the LA Galaxy faithful relish. Having grown accustomed to success, watching the LA Galaxy capitulate to a Dempsey-less Seattle Sounders in the blazing heat last weekend was wretched. Even more agonizing was listening to LA Galaxy management express surprise when questioned on basic squad issues that LA Galaxy fans have wrestled with ad nauseam since the season began.
For months now, analysts and fans have questioned Bruce Arena’s decision to bench AJ DeLaGarza, a keenly intelligent defender, and start Daniel Steres who, his height notwithstanding, makes basic defending errors on a frequent basis. For those with any doubts regarding DeLaGarza’s defending acumen, please revisit this gorgeous 22nd minute pinpoint slide tackle on Charlie Davies during the 2014 MLS Cup caused Taylor Twellman to muse to himself over the microphone, “A.J. DeLaGarza, my goodness…” According to Arena, DeLaGarza has been dealing with unspecified “injury” issues, though since this comment was made following the Galaxy’s shoddy performance last weekend, one wonders if the front office is looking to explicate on its own inexplicable decisions.
Regardless of whether AJ had a mysterious injury last weekend that kept him out of the lineup, even one game with a healthy AJ on the bench is one too many, and he has been relegated to the bench frequently this season. One would think Arena’s appetite for tall centerbacks would be sated by starting Jelle Van Damme, who is not only tall but also expresses an astute understanding of defensive tactics. For those who’ve long rooted for DeLaGarza to see more minutes, it was tortuous to watch Steres haplessly blunder through the Seattle game and then listen to Arena express surprise at the team’s poor defending:
“The defending on the corner kick we give away an own goal. I think we have to be a little bit sharper, more alert there. The second goal, you saw what that is. The third goal was poor defending by our back line. The fourth goal was whatever … I don’t know how you want to figure that one out. Be my guest.” – Bruce Arena, on the LA Galaxy’s defending against the Seattle Sounders
Similarly, for analysts who have long questioned whether it was optimal for the Galaxy to employ both Robbie Keane and Giovani dos Santos in the attack given that both players enjoy occupying the same space on the field, it is disconcerting to hear Arena say the following over a year after retaining the services of dos Santos:
Bruce on if Giovani dos Santos & Robbie Keane occupy the same attacking space: "I didn't notice that at all…I don't think that's accurate"
— Adam Serrano (@LAGalaxyInsider) September 29, 2016
In fact, a number of analysts, including the league’s own, Matt Doyle, pointed out at the time the El Tri attacker was hired, that both players display similar attacking profiles:
I think Dos Santos has never really loved playing on the wing. He’ll be asked to track back a ton from that spot on defense (an issue he’ll have to figure out, since LA are at their best when Robbie Rogers is bombing forward from left back), while being unsure of where he’s supposed to operate in attack since both he and Keane are naturally “underneath” forwards – there’s a reason they both wear No. 10 for their country. They tend to want the ball on their foot in the same spots, with combinations to play on all sides. – Matt Doyle, July 16, 2015
Apparently, no one working for the LA Galaxy reads anything published by analysts who cover the league.
This Saturday’s game will be a stern test for the LA Galaxy. Though FC Dallas stumbled midweek in its draw against CONCACAF Champion’s League opponent CD Suchitepéquez, it is noteworthy that Pareja opted to field a squad of reservists for the game against its Guatemalan foe, which means Dallas’ best players will be available for the matchup against the LA Galaxy this Saturday. The Galaxy, meanwhile, may still be smarting from their home defeat to the Sounders.
The teams are meeting for the first time this season in league play. The teams did meet in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal, which FC Dallas won in extra time on August 10 at the StubHub Center.
The game starts at 6 p.m. PT. It will be aired on Spectrum SportsNet and Time Warner Cable.