If you listen to the pundits, the LA Galaxy are supposed to be among the most improved teams in MLS in 2018. And there are two good, basic reasons for it. First, the Galaxy have plenty of room to improve after winning the wooden spoon in 2017. And second, Sigi Schmid’s side looks to be clearly more talented than the squad the Galaxy rolled out last season.
Still, whether this Galaxy team is a bona fide playoff team or merely no longer a cellar dweller remains to be seen. Preseason results — for the limited amount those are worth — suggest the Galaxy right now are closer to the latter than the former.
Schmid’s Galaxy are built for a pretty traditional 4-2-3-1, so it would be shocking to see LA come out in anything different. Jonathan dos Santos missed the Galaxy’s last preseason game with an injury, but appears likely to be back in the lineup on Sunday. If for some reason he’s not, journeyman Servando Carrasco will likely get the call alongside Perry Kitchen as a result of Joao Pedro suffering an injury against the Vancouver Whitecaps last week.
Assuming Jona returns for the Galaxy, however, he and Kitchen are a relatively traditional — although potentially potent — six-eight pairing. As discussed below, the younger dos Santos is particularly important to this Galaxy team, as without him the ball often slows down and the Galaxy attack grinds into predictability.
Based on preseason performances, it certainly doesn’t appear Schmid is in any mood to take risks with his fullbacks. Ashley Cole is now 37 years old and, especially when paired with the more vertical Ema Boateng on the left wing, will bomb on only selectively. Rolf Feltscher on the other side has the makeup to be a two-way fullback and will get forward more, but his relationship with Alessandrini appears to very much be a work-in-progress.
- When he struggles to find space (as he did against the notoriously deep-sitting Whitecaps), Gio dos Santos can be eliminated from the game. Schmid’s setup really requires Gio to play more as a true attacking central midfielder than at the second-striker spot where Gio has had more success. Keeping track of players in Zone 14 has been an issue for the Timbers in preseason with a defensive midfield in flux, but bottling up dos Santos is both possible and can render the Galaxy attack slow and predictable.
- Similarly, if Jona dos Santos doesn’t play (or is limited) as a result of whatever knock kept him out against Vancouver, the Galaxy attack can grind to a halt. None of Schmid’s other options in defensive midfield are remotely as effective in possession and the attack, and, without a number-8 who consistently bosses the attacking midfield, the Galaxy can be forced to try to create almost exclusively through the wings.
- The Galaxy’s central defense pairing of Michael Ciani and Jorgen Skjelvik is also a work-in-progress, which has led to some rough moments on the Galaxy backline this preseason. Ciani has been in the better form of the two, but there’s a clear lack of confidence in the relationship. That, combined with a dearth of ball-winning in the Galaxy midfield, can make Ciani panic a little bit and rashly step up into midfield, exposing space in behind.
- David Bingham hasn’t yet shown much sign of recovering his 2016 form in LA, which could create another adventuresome year for the Galaxy in goal.
- Both Boateng (who is likely to come off for Sebastian Lletget at some point) and Alessandrini are dangerous, but in different ways. Alessandrini remains the Galaxy’s most potent goalscoring and playmaking threat, and is easily a top-3 winger in MLS inverting from his right side. Boateng, meanwhile, continues to develop as a one-v-one specialist, and is dangerous in that regard. Still, he can get caught in a bit of a rut out wide at times and have trouble turning the advantages he creates with his pace and technicality into goalscoring sequences. If effective, though, his ability to provide width can stretch defenses and open central spaces for Gio dos Santos to find the game.
- Ola Kamara hasn’t yet been especially effective for the Galaxy, which could be a matter of an adjustment period or regression caused by leaving the Crew’s notoriously striker-friendly system. When Gio dos Santos goes quiet, Kamara has a tendency to drop deep into midfield and, as a result, the Galaxy can lack anybody leading the line.