Who You’ll Watch
The Sounders will finish their three game road trip this Sunday in Carson, CA, against the LA Galaxy. This is the first of two games that will be played in Carson this season, outside of potential US Open Cup and MLS Cup Playoff matchups, of course.
In the three games played during the regular season last year, Seattle went 1-1-1 against LA, which included the 4-2 victory in Carson last September. Both teams are coming of 2-1 defeats last week and are tied with six points each through six games played, though the Galaxy have had a harder time finding results, sitting on just two wins on the season versus the Sounders one win and three draws.
LA will be without Sebastian Lletget (foot surgery) and Robbie Rogers (ankle surgery). Seattle will still be without Aaron Kovar, (groin surgery,) Roman Torres, (left hamstring strain,) and presumably Brad Evans (calf muscle strain). Evans has been working with the team the last few weeks during training, so there is an outside chance he could make the 18, but don’t expect to see him start.
Galaxy 2017 Record: 2-4-0, 7th in West
Top Scorer: Romain Alessandrini, 4 goals
Top Assist leader: Emmanuel Boateng, Jermaine Jones, Alessandrini, 2 each
Notable Galaxy roster changes:
Out: Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Leonardo Da Silva, Alan Gordon, Mike Magee, A.J. DeLaGarza, Dan Kennedy, Jeff Larentowicz, Bruce Arena
In: Curt Onalfo, Jermaine Jones, Alessandrini, Joao Pedro, Jack McInerney (4/18/17)
What to Watch
The list of people moving on this offseason is full of big names that have, for years, been the drivers of the success of the Galaxy—Landycakes, Pointy-Shouty, Good-Looking Statue, Mr. Smug—as well as a number of top-level supporting players. The identity of the best soccer team in the city of LA playing on rented college land has been inextricably intertwined with some of the most talented and divisive people in the league, and, suddenly, they’re almost all gone at once.
The Curt Onalfo Era is starting off with what amounts to a rebuilding year, and the changes have already been shown to be drastic, both in terms of personnel and play. Fortunately for everybody else, those changes have been almost universally for the worse—LA has looked fairly lost across the board. Thus far, it’s been difficult to discern how much of their struggles have stemmed from a lack of familiarity, and how much is an inherent structural issue. Fits and starts suggest the ability to put it together lies within the team, but questions about quality remain.
Onalfo favors a simplistic 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 setup with a bit of a bucket to it; Jones still goes forward a decent bit, but not nearly as much as last year with Colorado Rapids. There’s also a definite right-leaning slant to their attack, which comes down primarily to Alessandrini being worth every penny.
Beware Frenchmen with Italian Names - The team is relying much more on crosses than the balanced attacks of years past. Goals have come primarily through Alessandrini’s feet—he’s been directly involved in six of their eight goals, and is providing almost two key passes per match. He also does a wonderful job of mixing up his attacks, and his movement both on and off the ball is rarely formulaic: sometimes heading towards the corner and crossing, other times cutting in (this is clearly his preferred solution) and driving at angles on goal. The Frenchman is also a skilled dribbler and clearly enjoys taking defenders on; his ability to keep his head up while dribbling is impressive. Most troubling for the Sounders, he does it down the side of Joevin Jones and Harry Shipp.
For all of his strengths, he’s significantly outperforming his xGoals (for an explanation of xG look here). He enjoys long-range shots (four of his six shots last weekend were from outside the 18 box), and teams will be willing to close him down much earlier as they learn his tendencies. His interplay with a young homegrown RB is still a work in progress, and he has often ended up on an island with the rest of his offense well away from him.
His performances have been talismanic for the team in large part because the rest of the offense has been so inept (which can probably be traced back to Lletget missing from pulling the strings in the middle). Giovani Dos Santos isn’t doing much in the final third, Gyasi Zardes is still finding his feet after returning from a major injury, (Bradford Jamieson IV had almost as many total touches in 22 minutes as Zardes did in 90 last week), and Emmanuel Boateng hasn’t done much of anything all season (except against RSL). Both of LA’s wins this season have come in extended 11v10 situations, and even that hasn’t been enough for them to be convincing.
Spending the energy to contain Alessandrini should be rewarding this week, but it’s worth noting that the Galaxy were able to get 18 shots off last week (almost as many shots as crosses!) and it is entirely possible that LA’s offense as a whole is finding some traction.
Exploit Spacing Issues - After Daniel Steres was posterized by Jordan Morris last year, I’m skeptical he isn’t going to just stand right next to his keeper to avoid the potential embarrassment again. Joking aside, LA’s defense has been a bit of a mess this year.
There’s myriad reasons for this, but ultimately they all feed into what’s generally been a poorly spaced, highly reactive defense.
Both outside backs, Smith and Ashley Cole, enjoy getting forward, and both struggle to cover their defensive responsibilities when they do. Jelle Van Damme and Daniel Steres move wide to cover the space, but are slow to react to attacks through the middle. Jermaine Jones and Joao Pedro are as disconnected as a midfield pair can be; rarely are they in the same time zone, and when they are, they’re in exactly the same spot. Jones has always been a roamer, and this causes no end of problems for Pedro, who looks to prefer a much more clearly defined set of responsibilities. Young keeper Clement Diop struggles to manage the defense, and is often left scrambling due to poor defending and poor positioning on his own part. Across the board, nobody seems confident that they know what anyone else is going to do, and it’s common to see only reactive movement for long stretches from them.
This feels like a match made for the Sounders offense to bang in a bunch of goals if they can step away from the cross for a minute. The Galaxy’s spacing and reactivity should allow a fair bit of time and space for the team, particularly up the middle. For this to succeed, Seattle needs Jordan Morris to drive the defense back through the middle. This is a definite change to the way he’s been playing, but one that was key to his success last year and not wildly outside his repertoire. Making these runs should help create space for Clint Dempsey, options for Lodeiro, and open a place for Cristian Roldan and Ozzie Alonso (preferably the former) to come crashing into. It’s not the Total Perspective Vortex it sounds like, but it should go a long way to moving the attack from worrying to scary.
SEA: Stefan Frei; Jones, Chad Marshall, Gustav Svensson, Oniel Fisher; Alonso, Roldan; Shipp, Dempsey, Lodeiro; Morris
LAG: Brian Rowe; A$hley Cole, Van Damme, Steres, Smith; Boateng, Jones, Joao Pedro, Alessandrini; Dos Santos, Zardes
How to Watch
Date/Time: Sunday, April 23 at 1:00 p.m.
Venue: StubHub Center
Radio: KIRO 97.3 (English), 1360 El Rey (Spanish)