By Chris Smith.
LA Galaxy kicked off their MLS is Back campaign in the worst possible manner on Monday, going down 2-1 against Portland Timbers.
Despite controlling 53% of possession, the Galaxy were only able to muster four shots on target compared to the Timbers’ six — one of which was Javier Hernandez’s missed penalty in the 12th minute. Chicharito’s late goal, his first for the Galaxy, came as little consolation given his side are now without a win in their first three games in 2020.
Sure, Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s men did create a number of meaningful chances on the night, but once again, this came from hopeless crosses into the box rather than measured, controlled build-up play. Something of a running theme during the Argentine’s tenure in charge.
That was all well and good last season when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the centrepiece to the Galaxy’s attack. After all, the Swedish veteran is one of the biggest and toughest strikers around and proved throughout last season he was easily able to shrug off centre-backs — only Kei Kamara (34) had more headed shots on goal than Ibrahimovic (31) during 2019. It wasn’t pretty, but this approach still managed to take the Galaxy to the Western Conference semi-finals.
However, Zlatan no longer wears the white of LA Galaxy having gone back to Italy with AC Milan. Instead, Major League Soccer’s most successful franchise has placed its attacking eggs in the basket of Mexico international, Chicharito.
Chicharito is a lot of things: intelligent with his movement, clinical with his finishing and generally hard-working out of possession. His game is built upon running off the last defender, or being in the right place at the right time for rebounds. What he is not is a target man.
It strikes you as rather odd, then, that of the Galaxy’s 26 key passes so far in 2020, nine of them have either come from crosses or free-kicks delivered into the box, according to WhoScored.com.
As MLSSoccer.com’s Matt Doyle said: “Despite those talented, technical individuals, the Galaxy still settled for far too many hopeless crosses to no one and aimless long-balls out of the back.”
Perhaps the absence of deep-lying midfielder Jonathan dos Santos hurt the Galaxy, but with a midfield still containing Sebastian Lletget and Sascha Kljestan — MLS’ highest active assist provider — and a forward line complimented by Argentina international Cristian Pavon, that is still no excuse and a damning indictment on the manager and his tactics.
Pavon has arguably been the Galaxy’s best player over the past year and has effectively upstaged Chicharito this season. However, the 24-year-old has all-too-often found himself picking up the ball away from the box, again having to rely on whipping in crosses rather than using his passing and dribbling skills to link with his teammates and unlock the opposition defence.
The 2020 MLS season is only three hours old and Cristian Pavon has already bagged one of the goals of the year 💥 pic.twitter.com/A9DurfhC3z
— Dylan Walsh (@dylanwalsh_) February 29, 2020
Looking at the defence, the Galaxy allowed Timbers stars Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and Jeremy Ebobisse far too much space between the lines and in the half-spaces on Monday. As a result, their back-four was exposed to some of the best passing and dribbling Major League Soccer has to offer, perfectly illustrated as Valeri sliced the Galaxy open inside their own box in the build-up to the opener.
Furthermore, the Galaxy defence’s failure to compete in one-on-one duels was a failure to behold and quite just how they allowed Blanco to walk free in their box, skipping challenge after challenge as he doubled the Timbers’ lead is a real mystery.
“We didn’t deserve to lose today,” Schelotto said after the match. “We gave them the opportunities to score the goals.”
On the first sentiment, we must beg to differ. However, the Argentine is on the money with the latter part of his statement — just as earlier in the season against Vancouver Whitecaps, the Galaxy were their own worst enemy in the defensive third.
LA Galaxy still have a derby match against LAFC and a clash with Houston Dynamo to come in search of their first win of 2020, and a path through to the MLS is Back knockout rounds. That said, when it comes to soccer betting in the USA, LAFC are now the favourites to win El Trafico, while the Dynamo showed real attacking prowess in their opener thanks to the skill and pace of Alberth Elis, Memo Rodriguez and Mauro Manotas.
There are clear and urgent problems that need solving with the Galaxy, and they’ve been there for a while. If Schelotto can’t turn this team of individuals into the exciting, fluid attacking unit they have the potential to be, and if he can’t get his defenders to work as an aggressive and cohesive unit, it’s going to be another year of disappointment for a team which has criminally underachieved over the past five years.