The LA Galaxy will travel north of the border on Friday to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps in their second road game of the 2019 season. But unlike last year, this time they’ll be taking Zlatan Ibrahimovic with them to play on the plastic turf of BC Place (7:00 p.m. PT; SpectrumSN, alternate channel).
The Galaxy (3-1-0) are looking to extend their winning streak to three games and continue to keep pace in the busy Western Conference.
The Whitecaps (0-3-1), on the other hand, are looking for their first win of 2019 after earning their first point of the season in a scoreless draw with the Seattle Sounders.
ZLATAN AND THE TURF MONSTER
There’s an argument to be made that starting a 37-year-old, who is coming off of reconstructive surgery, on turf, isn’t the smartest move. But Ibrahimovic is adamant that he’s feeling well enough that the synthetic surface at BC Place won’t stop him.
“I have no problem with turf fields,” he said. “Last season was special because of my knee injury. If I feel like I do today, I’m present so all the fans can enjoy.”
Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto is also on board with Ibrahimovic’s willingness to play. And it seems that Schelotto also has a preference on when he’ll use the six-foot-five Swedish striker. And that is from the very start.
Schelotto has mentioned it on multiple occasions that with Ibrahimovic, he’d rather start him than bring him in off the bench.
A RUSTY ALESSANDRINI
It was very evident in the Galaxy’s 2-1 victory over Portland that Romain Alessandrini was still getting his legs under him after returning from a hamstring issue that saw him exit the season opener in the 20th minute. He then missed the loss to Dallas and the win against Minnesota before returning to play 74 minutes against Portland.
The 30-year-old Frenchman, however, didn’t have a great night. He lost possession, missed on some easy passes and in general looked uncomfortable. While some of that inconsistency can be blamed on Portland’s defensive stance — a five-man backline, and no forwards that clogged up the middle of the field — clearly some of it due to the Alessandrini not having played in a few matches.
Against Vancouver, he should have more room to run, and when he cuts inside to combine with the midfield or Ibrahimovic, he’ll likely find many more areas to exploit.
He’ll also need to rely on right-back Rolf Feltscher. The two looked disconnected in the game against the Timbers. With Feltscher’s ability to overlap to either side of Alessandrini, those two should be able to find space to fire crosses into the box for Ibrahimovic, Lletget, or anyone else crashing into the 18-yard box.
The Galaxy launched 11 attempts towards goal in their game last weekend. But only two of those shots found the target and those were both on Ibrahimovic’s two Penalty Kicks.
Against Vancouver, they’ll need to test goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau and his defense. The Whitecaps have given up seven goals in 2019 and have only scored four goals.
The Galaxy blew a golden chance to add another goal in the closing minutes of the win over Portland. But a poor cross from defender Jorgen Skjelvik caught Ibrahimovic between a header or a volley and the ball went wide.
If the Galaxy want to win on the road, they’ll need to create offense when given a chance, and then score goals when those chances materialize into something more.
Exploiting Ibrahimovic’s size advantage should be first on their list. But as was evident against Minnesota, nothing beats an excellent passing build up and a smooth finish.
Ibrahimovic isn’t the only player on the field, and the Galaxy need to spread the wealth around if they want to get the win.
WINNING ON THE ROAD IS HARD
It’s not easy to win away from home. When you think about BC Place, you have to contend with commercial airline flights to another country, a different locker room and a different playing surface (turf).
But travel, in general, is hard for soccer teams. The Galaxy, for example, over the last two years were 10-16-8 in the 34 road games they played.
Even in the glory days of Bruce Arena (2009-2015) the Galaxy still had a losing record (38-40-37). And some of those teams — both the 2010 (9-3-3) and 2011 (7-5-5) sides — were the absolute pinnacle of road success.
The Galaxy, when traveling to Vancouver, are 2-3-4 in the nine matches played at BC Place between the two sides. Most recently, the two teams played to a 0-0 draw in March of last year.
The odds are definitely against the Galaxy, but Schelotto has the team focused on getting points and continuing their climb up the Western Conference ladder.