CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy are looking to keep their winning streak rolling. Winners of four-in-a-row, the Galaxy (5-1-0) will need to slam the door shut on the undefeated Houston Dynamo (4-0-1) who have also won four straight as they enter Dignity Health Sports Park for a Friday night, nationally televised, matchup (8 p.m.; Univision, UniMas).
The Galaxy will be faced with at least one personnel change as they seek a replacement for injured right-back Rolf Feltscher.
And this is the same Dynamo team that knocked the Galaxy out of playoff contention last year by scoring three second-half goals for the comeback victory.
We’ll take a look at the biggest storylines heading into the match.
PLAYING CONSISTENT SOCCER
The Galaxy played one of their prettiest halves soccer last weekend when they beat the Philadelphia Union by a final score of 2-0. Both goals came courtesy of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and it looked as if the team would go on trounce the Union after the first 45 minutes.
However, as Ibrahimovic told reporters, the Galaxy instead “relaxed.” And while they still held onto the shutout, the Union were probably the better second half team.
The Galaxy don’t want any part of “relaxing” on Friday when they host the Dynamo.
“The coach himself said he was not satisfied,” Ibrahimovic told reporters at training on Wednesday. “When you have a chance to execute the game you need to go for it. You don’t leave any space for the opponent, especially how the game went.
“I think the first half was the best half the team has done since I came. The second, we were less focused. But that is something you learn from.”
It’s been a similar pattern earlier in the season for the Galaxy as they have had back and forth 45 minutes without that complete-game feeling after it was all over.
To be clear, the Galaxy are winners of their last four games. So this isn’t about results. Instead, it’s about how they play the game and how they execute their gameplan.
“That is the difference between top teams and everyone else, the low-level teams,” Ibrahimovic answered after being asked about the consistency of the Galaxy. “That is what you have to show if you are a top team. Why all the best teams in the world keep winning.”
UPDATE: 4.18.19 11:50 A.M. — The LA Galaxy have just announced that Giancarlo Gonzalez has cleared all of the necessary immigration paperwork and has received his International Transfer Certificate. He will be available for the game on Friday night.
Rolf Feltscher injured his groin just before the 65th minute of the Galaxy’s win over the Union last weekend. And his replacement, 17-year-old Julian Araujo quickly stepped onto the field and played the remaining 25 minutes of the game with some success.
But faced with Feltscher being ruled out for this weekend’s game, and possibly the midweek matchup in Minnesota on April 24, the Galaxy will have to lean heavily on Araujo. Earlier in the week, there seemed to be some hope that new signing, Giancarlo Gonzalez might be able to fill in at right-back (he was brought in as a center back but has played the position for the Costa Rican National Team). But with paperwork still holding up his availability, the Galaxy will likely give Araujo the start (see above note about new information and Gonzalez being cleared to play).
Araujo will need to stand firm in the face of some very talented attackers on the Dynamo. But Guillermo Barros Schelotto seems to have all the confidence in the young player.
“We have a lot of expectation about Julian because he’s young — he’s coming from the academy,” Schelotto said. “He’s the sub if Rolf [Feltscher] is not playing. I think he keeps doing the same thing as Rolf. That was the advice before he got on the field.”
Araujo is going to be expected to get forward in the attack for the Galaxy and overlap with midfielder Romain Alessandrini. Especially as Alessandrini likes to cut inside. But Araujo will also be expected to track back on defense. And that means having to deal with Alessandrini’s somewhat hesitant defensive positioning at times.
It will be a trial by fire, for the youngster, and expect some ups and downs in this particular match.
HOUSTON’S COUNTER ATTACK
The Dynamo don’t like to hold onto the ball. In their 2-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes — an Earthquakes team that won their first points of the season against the Portland Timbers two weeks ago — the Dynamo ceded nearly 60% possession to the visitors. And that meant that San Jose was able to keep themselves in the game.
But Houston are experts at allowing teams to suck forward only to beat them on quick counter-attacks that leave everyone in their dust.
Memo Rodriguez, Mauro Manotas, and Alberth Elis are all capable of playing quickly and catching teams in transition, and when they’re allowed to run, the Dynamo are deadly — as if the Galaxy can forget what Houston was able to do them on the last game of the season.
But the Galaxy have been extremely effective at killing off counter-attacking goals this season. Through six games the Galaxy have allowed just six goals. And with the addition of Joe Corona to the midfield, Jonathan dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget have been experts at pressuring the opposing team into turning away from those counter-attacks.
The quick pressure coming from the Galaxy’s midfield is an essential reason for their recent success, and they’ll need to be on their toes to keep the Dynamo from taking advantage of any space between the midfield and the Galaxy’s defense.
The Galaxy, and especially Ibrahimovic, are going to tell you that they’re not thinking about last season. And that they have no interest in seeking revenge for Houston’s three second-half goals that knocked the Galaxy out of playoff contention on the last day of the 2018 season.
“Nah,” Ibrahimovic said. “This is a new season. What happened last year happened last year. You cannot look back and think about that. Then you have big problems individually because you have to look ahead.”
But nothing would make the Galaxy happier than to thoroughly trounce the Dynamo and reck their undefeated season.
It’s why the entire team isn’t taking this game lightly. The Galaxy want to win, and they want that revenge, even if they don’t publicly say it. But they now have the attitude that they want to win every game and that there are no teams that can beat them when they’re at their best.
“I think Philadelphia won three in a row and people said they were very good,” Ibrahimovic admitted to reporters. “They were, but we showed we are better. These are the games you want to play. It’s all about the winning.
“We should focus on ourselves, not what the other team does,” he continued. “If you do what we know, we can do, and what we can work for I don’t see any threats in the competition. We have to beat every team to become number one. One game at a time. Every team we respect, and we do not underestimate. We want to win.”
Adding a little chip to their shoulder won’t hurt especially when the Dynamo are one of the few teams to hold a winning record over the Galaxy — 10-11-7 for Galaxy, but 5-4-4 in Carson.
It will be a game that matters in the standings, as well. As both teams try and keep pace in a blistering Western Conference – even as the top team in the league just made their first misstep.
The Galaxy are third in the Western Conference and fourth in the league while the Dynamo are fourth in the Western Conference and fifth overall.
But it’s one game at a time.
“No residue from last year,” Ibrahimovic closed with. “I didn’t lose many times. This is a new season. You cannot think like that. That is a weak mind.”