Carson, Calif. – The LA Galaxy return home following an unimaginative 1-0 victory against the Chicago Fire. The windy city lived up to its billing as 20-30 mph winds caused havoc throughout the 90-minute contest. Despite goalkeeper David Bingham’s goal kicks floating back to his defense like a paratrooper descending onto Normandy during Operation Neptune, the LA Galaxy were able to find their Deus Ex Machina once again as Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed home the winner during the first half stoppage time.
They’ll need some more divine intervention if they intend to keep pace with the Atlanta United FC attack. Atlanta comes off a 2-2 draw against New York City FC that showed the evolution of Major League Soccer. If the Galaxy are lucky, they’ll be able to salvage a point at home against Atlanta and its juggernaut attack.
LA Galaxy Atlanta United Preview: Galaxy Defense set to Face New Generation MLS Attack
LA Galaxy vs Atlanta United
2018 MLS Regular Season
April 21, 2018 – 7:30 pm PT
In no uncertain terms, this game is a benchmark for the LA Galaxy. Despite being second in the MLS Western Conference, the LA Galaxy have only played slightly better than a mid-table team with aspirations of clawing into the playoffs. Furthermore, if it weren’t for Zlatan, the Galaxy would be in dire early-season trouble. Removing the 6 points he is responsible for, the Galaxy, who would have likely drawn against Chicago, would be sitting on 5 points and tied for 8th in the Western Conference. Fortunately, they do have Zlatan, and they are not decaying near the bottom of the table.
How do the LA Galaxy win this game?
They keep their defensive shape. The 2018 LA Galaxy have been very average defensively. Luckily, this is a huge step up from their 2017 defensive rating of “run, hide, and pray they only score two.” Atlanta United will test the back line, and the game will most certainly be decided by how adventurous the Galaxy fullbacks are in attack. If Ashley Cole and Rolf Feltscher continue to push forward as is their precedent, the Galaxy will in no uncertain terms, concede at least one goal via Atlanta counter-attack.
One thing the Galaxy can do is feign the overlap with Cole, which is something they did in the opener against the Portland Timbers. This allowed Ema Boateng to routinely run in behind and throw threatening crosses into the box.
They get the ball to Zlatan. Although Atlanta debuted a 3-5-2 against NYCFC, they used former Galaxy midfielder Jeff Larentowicz as a deep, deep-lying No. 6. He acted as a ball-stopping center-back who would step forward to disrupt the attack. This is something the Galaxy should be able to exploit as neither Larentowicz, nor the other Atlanta defenders, stand taller than 6’1″. With the Galaxy’s propensity to send in crosses, the 6’5″ Ibrahimovic will look to add his third headed goal of the season.
Furthermore, if the LA Galaxy plan on placing someone other than Zlatan on the scoresheet, they’ll need Atlanta to be game-planning against their Swedish superhero. Zlatan has shown the ability to pull markers with him. On the other hand, Atlanta doesn’t exactly play a pragmatic Jose Mourinho style of soccer. Thus, If Zlatan is able to draw defenders, his fellow attackers will find plenty of space to put a shot on goal.
They diversify their attack. The LA Galaxy have a fairly pedestrian attack. For a team with names such as Sebastian Lletget, Giovani dos Santos, Jonathan dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini, Ola Kamara, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it is borderline disgraceful to have only scored eight goals in six matches. Regardless of their injuries this year, they have lacked any cohesion in attack, and that is a game-plan issue.
In fact, the LA Galaxy have only scored three goals via foot in 2018. The first came from Alessandrini, who knocked in his own rebound in the opener. The second ignited the El Trafico comeback as Lletget slotted home a 61st minute shot against LAFC. Then there was the Zlatan golazo heard round the world. Otherwise, the LA Galaxy have been pedestrian with the ball at their feet. If they have realistic ambitions about taking a point from this game, they will need to do more than swing in cross after cross.
The responsibility of playmaker should be that of designated player Giovani dos Santos. However, his injury and a prolonged run of poor form put his ability to make plays in question. His role needs to be filled. What the Galaxy will do is give Lletget and Alessandrini license to swap wings. This way, they will keep Atlanta’s backline guessing as they will be able to stretch the field vertically or cut inside depending on which side they are currently playing.
Prediction: Atlanta United 2, LA Galaxy 1
Atlanta has shown off its ability to score goals in bunches. They beat the LA Galaxy 4-0 last year. Atlanta simply toyed with the Galaxy for the entire 90-minutes. The match saw Jermaine Jones issued a red card for a blatant kick out against Atlanta’s Hector Villalba. Luckily for LA, Jones is gone. However, Villalba and the rest of Atlanta’s scoring threats are not, which will make for a stressful night in Carson.
Atlanta will trot out their goal scoring duo of Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez. The combination has combined for eight goals this season, which alone ties the LA Galaxy’s entire team. As scary as they might be, MLS record signing Ezequiel Barco will be waiting on the bench as head coach Tata Martino works him back into fitness.
The real threat is not necessarily the individual players; rather, it is the style of play. More than any other team in MLS, Atlanta runs a “Tiki-Taka” style of attack. With short, quick passes, they move up the field with urgency to put the ball on target. With their faulty backline, they tend to press high up the field (although they did sit deeper against NYCFC).
The LA Galaxy aren’t built to stop teams like this. They will need to make a tactical shift if they plan on keeping the scoreline respectable. And, if past is precedent, Sigi Schmid will be unable to adapt his plan in a meaningful way. The Galaxy will drop three points at home to Atlanta’s high-powered attack before looking on to the New York Red Bulls.