Editorial (April 13, 2018) – After an anticlimactic 2-0 defeat against MLS Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City, the LA Galaxy hope to catch a tailwind in the “Windy City” as they prepare to face the Chicago Fire. Despite out-shooting SKC 19-12, the LA Galaxy ended the night with nothing but three close calls and zero points. They must look to rebound if they want to avoid a potential 2017-esque slide.
LA Galaxy Don’t Need a Major Overhaul in Preparation for Chicago Fire
Chicago Fire vs. LA Galaxy
2018 MLS Regular Season
April 14, 2018 – 12:30 pm PT
After the “Milagro de Marzo” in Él Tráfico, anything less than a win against Sporting Kansas City would be unacceptable for LA Galaxy fans. When the Galaxy fell behind 2-0, the universe reminded those fans about the volatility of miracles.
Sporting Kansas City stayed compact after scoring two goals in quick succession. Not even the Galaxy’s new Swedish, brunette Thor could hammer one of his lightning bolts into the back of the net. SKC showed why they are perennial contenders. They refused to concede any of the late, dramatic goals the Galaxy seem to rely on these days.
Regardless, the LA Galaxy’s match against SKC was a paradox of playing better than the scoreline while simultaneously playing worse than the statistics indicate. If they plan on returning home with a point, or three, they will need to do some spring cleaning in Chicago.
The Fullbacks Need to Stay Back
One of the major flaws of the 2018 LA Galaxy is the inability to maintain sustained possession. The midfielders aren’t able to control the ball, and opposing teams win the ball back with a minimal press and are able to counter with success.
Against SKC, the Galaxy conceded a goal directly caused by fullback positioning. In the 61st minute, Ashley Cole steps up to mark SKC fullback Graham Zusi. Cole creeps toward the midfield line when Roger Espinoza sends a ball that clears all three Galaxy lines and finds Johnny Russell running into space. That space should have been occupied by Cole.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 9, 2018
Cole is able to recover, but he puts himself in a bad position inside of Daniel Steres. Russell splits the defenders as Cole and Steres play a little “Night at the Roxbury.”
While it is important for the fullbacks to occasionally provide width in the attack, a majority of their defensive blunders come against counter-attacks that expose the fullbacks being caught up-field. Neither Cole, nor right-back Rolf Feltscher, have the pace required to run the wing for 90-minutes. A little organization in the back against Chicago will save the Galaxy against a Chicago Fire side that looks to press in the midfield and counter quickly.
The Chicago Fire currently average 2 goals allowed per game. This could be an opportunity for the Galaxy to find their rhythm. The Galaxy pulled off 19 shots against SKC and placed 10 of those on target. Unfortunately, three of those shots ricocheted off the woodwork. So, if the Galaxy can continue shooting, they are bound to catch a break against a leaky Chicago side.
The Kamara Factor
Newcomer Ola Kamara has yet to find the goal-scoring form that had many pundits claiming he helped the Galaxy win the off-season. Some might say he is trying to find his connection with his teammates. However, others will contend he is being lost in the Galaxy attack in the same way Gyasi Zardes was in 2017.
For all intents and purposes, Kamara should still have a big 2018 in front of him. The key to his success will be how frequently he can actually make runs in behind the opposition defense.
The LA Galaxy are currently using Kamara as a hold-up forward and in each of the previous two games, he hasn’t even been the most forward player on the field. According to InStat, In the SKC match, Kamara’s average position was behind Romain Alessandrini, Ema Boateng, and Chris Pontius. Part of the problem is Sigi Schmid using Alessandrini in the middle. His style of play doesn’t suit the center of the field, and positioning him there as he returns from a hamstring injury is somewhat mysterious.
If Kamara is able to run in behind defenders, he will open up the middle of the field for his teammates to exploit. This is what he did for the Columbus Crew, and if the Galaxy plan to turn their season around, they need Kamara to do the same for them.
Putting out the Fire
In their most recent matchup, the Chicago Fire came out in a 3-5-2 formation. This is where teamsheets and the actual game don’t align. The formation was more of a 5-3-2 with Bastian Schweinsteiger playing a hybrid sweeper/defensive midfielder role. This allows the aging midfielder to slot into the defense while also contributing to the attack as he wishes.
In their most recent match, Chicago seemed more than happy to allow the Columbus Crew to possess the ball for long stretches and then send long balls racing to the feet of Nemanja Nikolic.
If the Galaxy continue to push their fullbacks into the attack, they will get exposed on the counter once again. Chicago will look to invite the pressure and defend with numbers behind the ball. If they are able to maintain possession, look for Schweinsteiger to work his way up the field and impact the game from the middle of the field.
Thankfully for the LA Galaxy, Chicago mustered only five shots against Columbus, and they average less than seven shots per game. This should allow the Galaxy to feel confident that they can take the game to Chicago.
Prediction: LA Galaxy 2, Chicago Fire 1
The LA Galaxy need to play more structured if they expect to get a result in Chicago. It will be interesting to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic go toe-to-toe with his former Manchester United teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger.
The Galaxy should come out in a 4-4-2 with Michael Ciani returning to replace Steres in the back. Expect Sebastian Lletget to return to the XI with Romain Alessandrini as his counterpart winger. The real switch should be in the attack. Pairing Chris Pontius and Ola Kamara up top allows Kamara the creative freedom to find the game. Pontius will also give Kamara a target forward to run in behind.
Playing a 4-4-2 will also make Zlatan a natural substitute as he can replace Pontius during the second half. He can provide a spark that the Galaxy should hope they don’t need. If for the third consecutive match, the LA Galaxy hope for a Zlatan thunderbolt to lead the comeback, they will find themselves facing many questions on the flight home.
The one player missing from this starting XI is Boateng. Despite a few brilliant moments, the pacey Ghanaian simply doesn’t have the requisite skills to be a starter on this LA Galaxy team. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. As a late-game substitute on either wing, Boateng will be able to torch exhausted backlines. With his pace, he will be able to provide service for the forwards to add to the Galaxy scoreline.
The LA Galaxy have an opportunity to steal points in Chicago. With one of the deepest benches in MLS, there is no reason for this team to continue their underachievement. Moreover, if Alessandrini and Kamara return to form, they could terrorize Chicago defenders. Ultimately, it all comes down to discipline and effort for this LA Galaxy team.