Once perennial challengers for MLS Cups, the past couple of seasons have been difficult for the LA Galaxy. But through the first two weeks of the 2021 MLS regular season, there are signs that the LA Galaxy are getting back on track. The California side are the only MLS team with two wins, and their star Designated Player, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, has been in red-hot form. So, what challenges do they present to the Sounders in this Sunday’s clash (6:00 p.m. PT; FS1, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM | TICKETS) at Lumen Field?
LA Galaxy’s Attack
The LA Galaxy struggled to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic last year, and Chicharito, who boasts a very different skillset to the Swede, struggled to impact games and live up to his star billing. New coach Greg Vanney has developed a system that doesn’t ask as much of Chicharito in build-up play, allowing him to play on that last line and gamble with his attacking runs. His goal on opening weekend against Inter Miami is a perfect example of his unique skillset. When the ball is on the wings, he expertly times his movement to split defenders and his finish is quick and incisive. Classic Chicharito.
Chicharito’s against NYRB last weekend showcased his elite anticipation to get into scoring positions. His knack for being in the right place at the right time is an art, and his lack of activity in the build-up makes him even more difficult to lock down defensively. The shape around Chicharito is very flexible. It can look like a 4-2-3-1 with Ethan Zubak and Samuel Grandsir in the wide areas offering direct running at the opposition back four. Zubak can also push up alongside Chicharito to provide a hold-up option.
New signing Víctor Vázquez enjoyed success at Toronto FC under Greg Vanney and the pair have reunited in Southern California, giving the Galaxy a player that who unlock the opposition. His ball over the top for Chicharito’s second goal against New York is a prime example of his creativity.
Vázquez sets the tempo well and is a good complimentary piece in central midfield alongside Jonathan dos Santos and Adam Saldana, two players who move the ball quickly. Dos Santos, in particular, is critical to the Galaxy in possession. If he is denied the ball, then the Galaxy tempo drops. The Galaxy also have a couple of interesting options off the bench, with Sacha Kljestan and the talented prospect Efraín Álvarez both capable of providing a moment of magic.
LA Galaxy’s Defense
The Galaxy have struggled defensively in recent years, with only San Jose conceding more goals in Western Conference play last season. Early signs this season indicate that those issues will persist. Center backs Daniel Steres and Nick DePuy are efficient in the air but lack mobility and can be exposed when the Galaxy back line pushes high.
The full back positions for the Galaxy are occupied by Julian Araujo and Jorge Villafaña. A vastly experienced defender, Villafaña has upgraded this position for the Galaxy, but the space in behind him can be exploited when he gets forward. Araujo is very talented, but the youngster’s reading of the game means he can be caught out of position with clever runs from midfield. Jonathan Bond has become the new starting goalkeeper for the Galaxy. He’s made some good saves in his first two fixtures, although it is still too early to suggest he is an upgrade on previous options.
Keys to the Game
Jordan Morris always performed well against the Galaxy, exploiting their high line and lack of defensive pace. The Sounders can still capitalize these defensive deficiencies, with Brad Smith attacking the space behind Araujo. This will drag the center backs to the wings to provide cover, opening up space for Raúl Ruidíaz and Will Bruin.
Cristian Roldan, who holds an impressive scoring record against the Galaxy, can provide a spark the Sounders attack in this one as well. With the Galaxy center backs occupied by Bruin and Ruidíaz, Roldan’s deceptive late runs into the penalty area should see him get into quality scoring positions. The Sounders also need to make sure that they don’t allow Chicharito to occupy all three center backs. If he does, Seattle’s wingbacks will be forced back to cover the Galaxy wingers and that will make it more difficult to counter. The Sounders need to respect Chicharito but also be aggressive with their defensive line and allow the wingbacks the opportunity to pin back the Galaxy’s wide attackers. If Sounders FC can strike this defensive balance, the Rave Green can continue their unbeaten start to the season