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Match Preview | Atlanta United vs. LA Galaxy: 3 Things to Watch For

 

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Photo credit – Atlanta United FC

 

The LA Galaxy are in a rut rather reminiscent of a slipping Hollywood A-lister: they were pretty hot back in 2014, but they haven’t really acted in anything since, and people are starting to wonder who the hell they had to pay off to get that undeservedly high-profile cameo. Maybe I’m being too harsh. For the lion’s share of MLS history, the Galaxy have been a, if not the dominant force. Their high profile players like the Dos Santos brothers and, to a lesser extent Gyasi Zardes (though some fans disagree) are always liable to light up an opposing defense, but the fact of the matter is that the rest of the side has settled into a malaise. Or maybe they just aren’t that good.

Fresh off of a 4-0 thwopping at the hands of Toronto, the Galaxy have traveled east to play against Atlanta United in front of a national audience tonight at 7pm (ESPN 2). Their season is already a foregone conclusion, but United will be seeking 3 crucial points in the hunt for an MLS post-season berth (the self-proclaimed nerds over at American Soccer Analysis have us making the playoffs in 99.95% of their simulations). Here are 3 insights I feel will characterize tonight’s game and how Atlanta can best capitalize on them.

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Concerns about our own defensive stability aside, Michael Ciani, Hugo Arellano, and Dave Romney got absolutely exposed by Tosaint Ricketts and the rest of the Toronto FC attack. They played in a 3 backer that was clearly understaffed. Ciani alone was directly responsible for two goals in that he simply could not contest the shots. Toronto placed significant pressure on players in and around the final third, to which LA reacted with flapping neuroticism.

Tata Martino demands high-intensity pressing from Atlanta, and our attacking prong of Asad, Villalba, and Almiron are adept at running around like Energizer bunnies to gum up the opposition in their own half. Furthermore, if Ricketts (xG 3.5) was able to so unabatedly manhandle Ciani, then I expect Martinez (xG 8.4), arguably the shiftiest player in the league, will have him on the floor for a majority of the 90.

*Classic 4 is one of the lowest levels within the Georgia boy’s soccer select system

 

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Sorry, had to. One of the ways that Toronto was able to create chances where the backline was discombobulated was by first taking care of business on the wings, teasing out the wide players and forcing a step from the holding mids. I’m not sure if Siegfried Schmid will keep the 3-5-3 he ran last Saturday given how things played out, but I’m looking for United to exploit this weakness. Diallo and Romney, in particular, tended to roll over whenever Vazquez and Osorio came knocking on the left. No Garza means we’ll probably see McCann occupying this position again. Yes, he’s not as much of a modern wingback, and he’s shown reluctance to really exploit the space he’s given (which I talked about on the show last week), but all in all, the Irishman has demonstrated himself to be stout enough, and wow does he have a hell of a left foot.

The head scratcher is who will line up behind Villalba on the right. Walkes was criticized for general sloppiness against Orlando, but I’m not sure he’s fully deserving of this derision: he won all four of his aerial duels (though part of the problem with the goals was that they weren’t duels at all) and is more than eager to participate in the attack. That being said, I think Mears has the ability to cross the ball with more refinement and would like to see him start.  The moral of the story is that if United can dominate the wings through quick play and technical superiority, in addition to coming close to repeating their impressive 32 crosses against Orlando, they should be able to dismantle the Galaxy at the back.

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I hate to bring up an intangible that everybody already knows exists and is extensively (I mean extensively) talking about, but it’s hard to overstate the effect of the 12th man on a team in a position such as the LA Galaxy are. They just experienced a 4-0 home loss in front a sparse (by former LA standards) crowd (19,650) at the hands of a weakened Toronto outfit. In fact, in their last three home games combined, some 13,000 fewer fans bothered to show up to watch the Galaxy than attended our record-breaking match on Saturday. After the final whistle blew against Toronto, the LA supporters section did not leave for 45 minutes until Romain Alessandrini came out to talk to them. There are rumors that the front office is in disarray. I write none of this to wantonly disparage the Galaxy, but instead to emphasize that walking into a packed stadium that is rambunctious and loud will have a marked impact on them. You heard it here first: the crowd will be the “surprise x-factor.”

But it actually will be.

We cannot allow this game to proceed like the trio of D.C. United performances. I’ll be in attendance tonight, and I’m looking for some high-flying wing play that knocks the LA on their asses quickly and decisively, disciplined football that ensures the Galaxy have a rather…milky way to goal.

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How to Watch

TV

ESPN2

Online

WatchESPN

Radio

92.9 The Game 

La Mejor Atlanta

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