Steve Carrillo

LA Galaxy focus on defense as Gyasi Zardes and Columbus Crew come to town

The LA Galaxy are undefeated when they score the first goal (5-0-3). A feat they’ve only accomplished eight times in their first 17 games in 2018.

But after blowing back to back leads and two-goal advantages against the bottom two teams in the league — San Jose Earthquakes (3-3) and DC United (2-2) —  the Galaxy are hoping those draws don’t stop them from trying to play from in-front when Columbus Crew SC and former Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes come to town on Saturday night at StubHub Center (7:30 p.m.; SpectrumSN, SpectrumDeportes).

The Galaxy (6-7-4) will face off against the Crew (8-5-6) just as the halfway point in the season passes with plenty of time to look back over the failures of the first 17 games.

The club currently sits in eighth place in the Western Conference and are 14 spots from tops in the league. And while the offense has scored 27 goals on the year — 10 of those from striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic — the defense has been porous on many nights, allowing 28 goals on the season and in spite of the five shutouts the Galaxy have on their record. In fact, the Galaxy have allowed two goals or more in a total of ten games with six of those times allowing three goals within the match.

“We need to be better,” Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid said of the defense. “We as a coaching staff need to work harder, because obviously what we’re doing hasn’t been enough at this stage. And, we need to be better defensively. So it doesn’t matter how many more pieces we can add if we don’t get better defensively, it’s going to make it really tough for us.”

Offensively, the Crew will depend on their goalscoring leader, Zardes. He has 11 goals this season after he was traded from the Galaxy along with allocation money in exchange for current Galaxy striker Ola Kamara (6 goals in 2018) this offseason.

The Crew are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference and are coming off a 2-1 road victory over Real Salt Lake last weekend. They also played in a weather-shortened friendly against Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rican club) on Tuesday night. But that game isn’t expected to hinder their performance on Saturday night.

They’ll likely be without Zack Steffen, their star goalkeeper, who underwent minor knee surgery nearly two weeks ago. He’s expected to be back for the Crew shortly, but it doesn’t look like he made the trip to Los Angeles.

The Galaxy are to be without Rolf Feltscher as he continues his recovery from a torn pectoral muscle. They’re also likely to be without Bradford Jamieson (hip strain), Emmanuel Boateng (hamstring), and Sebastian Lletget (ankle injury) with all three recovering from their various injuries and not participating in the shortened week of training.

Servando Carrasco, who is suffering from a lower-body injury of sorts and missed Wednesday night’s draw, was back to training with the Galaxy ahead of their weekend matchup but it’s unknown if he’ll be available for the club on Saturday.

But two player the Galaxy are likely to get back are Jonathan and Giovani dos Santos. With both back from their international duty with Mexico, Schmid was hopeful they’d play a role in the weekend match.

Giovani dos Santos has only played in six games this season because of injury and Mexican National team call-ups. His 326 minutes are the least of any Designated Player on the team and he’s only played in 21.3% of the minutes available this season for the team. But the Galaxy need him to be successful and stay healthy if they’re thinking about the playoffs.

Jonathan dos Santos doesn’t fare much better. Playing in only eight games this season but almost doubling the total number of minutes on the field for the Galaxy with 622.

Both players could slot into “new” positions as the Galaxy have taken to playing a 3-5-2 attacking formation since they last departed for Russia and the World Cup.

But getting any bodies back is a good thing for a Galaxy side that has the distinct feel of just emerging from a long preseason.

“I think every player we have available, it’s positive,” Ibrahimovic told reporters. “We need all players we have. We need them fresh and we need them available. Some have been at the World Cup, some have been injured, so hopefully, we can have everybody and the coach has a lot of choices to choose to play.

“But still the game we played without these players, I think we could have won it but we didn’t,” he continued. “If you win those games without the players we don’t have, it’s a quality because we can win and that shows how strong the team is, not just the 11 players that play but those that don’t play, as well.”

Galaxy midfielder Chris Pontius has been playing and playing well. The offseason Free-Agent addition will look to continue his streak of scoring a goal or assisting — it currently stands at five consecutive games with two goals and three assists — as the game kicks off on Saturday night.

But playing the Crew will not be easy. Overall this is the 42nd meeting between the two clubs with the visitors on Saturday night holding a slight edge (17-15-10 vs the Galaxy).

Last August, in Columbus, the Galaxy fell 2-0 with goals from Kamara (with Columbus) and Justin Meram — neither player with the Crew in 2018.

But in Los Angeles, the Galaxy have the overall advantage with an 11-7-4 record at StubHub Center where the Galaxy have outscored the Crew 31 to 25.

The Galaxy are looking for a home win on Saturday night. A win which would see them surpass their home points total for the entirety of an abysmal 2017 (14 points).

But in order to get a win against a good Crew team, the Galaxy will need to get more out of a backline that probably went through one too many rotations against DC United. And if the defense can stay stronger for longer, the Galaxy offense will have every intention of finishing off their opponents.

Zardes though certainly has the motivation to score on his former team. And stopping him from peppering the net with goals, might be the most important defensive stop the Galaxy could make.