The LA Galaxy (2-4-0) aren’t in any position to be proud of the way they have stated the 2017 season. They have just two wins out of six games and let a hard-fought road point slip away against an Orlando City team that should have scored two or three more goals on the night. And the pressure that seemed to relieve a bit after a 2-1 win over a 10-man Montreal Impact has once again built to a supporter breaking point. This seems like the long way of saying that the Galaxy have even more pressure on them as the defending MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders (1-2-3) invade StubHub Center on Sunday, April 23rd, at 1 PM PST (TV: ESPN).
To be fair, the Sounders haven’t exactly started 2017 off with a bang, either. They currently sit below the Galaxy in the standings (Galaxy 8th in the West, Seattle 9th in the West) but are equal on points – the Galaxy’s two wins make up the difference in positioning. But they have been better at securing points, something the Galaxy have struggled with, and have played four of their six games on the road – vs the Galaxy’s three games on the road. The Sounders have just one win on the season, a 3-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls at home on March 19th.
In actuality, it seems that the Galaxy and Sounders are on fairly level terms. However, when a team has just won the ultimate prize in Major League Soccer, they tend to be given a longer leash than a team that had a major overhaul to on-field and off-field personnel. And this is where the biggest difference between these two teams lies in 2017.
LA GALAXY INJURIES
Sebastian Lletget (foot surgery) and Robbie Rogers (Ankle Surgery) are the lone players out for the Galaxy. Although Clement Diop, who was injured but stayed in the game against Orlando, may be slow to recover from that knock and will probably not start. In fact, there’s a good chance that he might now even be on the bench. And with his play in the last three games, do you want him starting?
If Galaxy Head Coach Curt Onalfo sticks with Diop, and he’s healthy enough to play, perhaps Galaxy fans will finally have an answer to “who is the number one ‘keeper?” So far this season, Onalfo has said he wants competition at the spot but has failed to provide said competition. In fact, everyone is left wondering what you need to do on this team to get benched – with João Pedro seemingly the poster child for this movement.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS INJURIES
Seattle also has some players who are likely to miss this game. Roman Torres (Left Hamstring Strain) and Aaron Kovar (groin surgery), will be out for Sunday’s match. And Brad Evans (calf muscle strain), who has been training the last few weeks with the Sounders, could make a re-appearance on the 18-man roster but is unlikely to start.
WHAT TO EXPECT?
But Seattle has plenty of other dangerous players to keep an eye on. Jordan Morris, Clint Dempsey, and Nicolás Lodeiro all feature for this club and should cause a ton of issues for a Galaxy defense and midfield that has looked sketchy at times and lost for long periods during the first six matches. Lodeiro is of particular concern as the Galaxy push Emmanuel Boateng up into an offensive position. Ashley Cole should backstop Boateng, but with outlets like Dempsey and Morris, Seattle could weave their way through to the weak spots on the field.
The bright side is that the less experienced side of the defense, Nathan Smith, and Daniel Steres, will mostly have to keep an eye on Sounders midfielder, Harry Shipp. Although, after last years’ 4-2 loss in September, expect Morris to be salivating over getting to go against Steres again. That game should be one that Steres never forgets as Morris was able to spin and out physical Steres from the midway line as he streaked back fifty yards to score a goal. Steres better have revenge on his mind.
But this is where the danger lies for the Galaxy. Much like that play last year, Steres was forced out wide with just two defenders back. Both Cole and Jelle Van Damme were caught way up the field attacking instead of defending. And Steres’ only cover was right back Robbie Rogers who never reacted to the danger of Steres being pulled out wide by himself and made a late and reactionary run to provide support.
Because the Galaxy get so much of their dangerous play from their outside backs, it will be very important for Steres and Van Damme not to get sucked too far forward. This will be difficult when Van Damme has taken to predicting when and where Pedro will get beaten and will try to push into that space in front of him to stop attacks.
In all likelihood, the Sounders are going to allow the Galaxy to have the ball in this game and when turnovers happen, Dempsey and Morris will spring forward in an attempt to pull the Galaxy away from each other. One player will head towards one sideline with the other player doing the opposite. Dempsey usually sitting deeper than Morris but is still capable of bending a defense to his will. This allows teams to attack down the middle against Pedro and then shift outside for the final run into the box beating Smith and Cole who are slow to get back.
To counter that, Van Damme and Steres and at least one other defender must stay home as much as possible. Perhaps Onalfo should preach that the outside backs should pick and choose when to get forward in this game – a defense-first mentality. By keeping three defenders behind the ball the Galaxy should slow the initial pressure coming from Osvaldo Alonso, Lodeiro, and Dempsey and allow the midfield and the attacking outside back to get back into position.
Offensively, for the Galaxy, the attack will favor going through Romain Alessandrini on the right-hand side. Jermaine Jones will be active in the middle trying to stop Alonso and Lodeiro and may have to sit further back in this game. So the interplay between Alessandrini, Giovani dos Santos, and Gyasi Zardes will be paramount. It’s something that hasn’t clicked yet for the Galaxy, but they’ll need to start getting some mileage out of this partnership. Goals need to start coming from somewhere else besides Alessandrini. One player is too easy to gameplan for.
LAG: Rowe; Cole, Van Damme, Steres, Smith; Boateng, Jones, Pedro, Alessandrini; Dos Santos, Zardes
This game will be billed as one between Zardes and Morris – both Homegrown players with a ton of success in MLS and the U.S. Men’s National Team. But it’s importance doesn’t lie anywhere close to that. For the Galaxy, It’s important to stop the slide and get three points at home. They simply can’t afford to cede any more points at StubHub Center in 2017. But it will also be about proving to themselves they can play. They’ve shown some starts and stops and even some hope that they might be able to put things together for brief periods of time. But against full strength teams, nothing has even come close to 90-minutes of success.
At the start of a three-game homestand, the Galaxy sit on a see-saw of “yes we can play this game” and “the season is over.” Even if starting out slow doesn’t count a team out in MLS – just ask their opponent on Sunday – but it won’t make anyone in the Galaxy’s Front Office feel comfortable. And a loss would only feed the rising fervor against a coach, a GM, a president, and a club that have fallen far below expectations. Yes, the Galaxy are just six games into the season, and yes they did undertake a rather severe overhaul to the roster in the offseason, but this team must start showing something approaching a playoff capable team. While Bruce Arena was afforded slow starts, this isn’t one of his teams. I’m not sure Los Angeles has the patience to wait and see.