Well, FC Dallas proved me very wrong on Saturday with a wild 5-3 win over Minnesota United. Now on short rest they travel to California to take on the Los Angeles Galaxy. LA comes into this one having lost their last match at D.C. United. They are in fifth place in the Western Conference with 37 points. Dallas is only one point behind with 36, but are in seventh place in the West, with Real Salt Lake sandwiched between due to being tied on points with LAG.
I’m not sure whether this is a good time or not to be catching the Galaxy. On the one hand, they have lost their last three games, and four of their last five. On the other hand, they are working in new signing Cristian Pavon and will be welcoming him to his first home game in LA, which means a lively atmosphere for the traveling Hoops to deal with. It was the second match of the season when we first had a glimpse of this LA team. Sure, they were missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romain Alessandrini, but the bones appeared to be there. Reviewing that match is like waking up from a good dream but having it slip away with each passing second. It was Paxton Pomykal’s first start and everyone at Big D was trying to justify all the heaps of praise we were giving him. Bryan Acosta scored what is still the best goal of the season off a dynamite volley from outside the box. It looked like he would be a difference maker in the midfield that could help us win games. Carlos Gruezo had a shutdown performance. My oh my how time changes things.
Without even reviewing all the FC Dallas changes, LA will be a team only semi recognizable in how they play this game vs the first one. I said in the first preview that Zlatan is the sun that all other players revolve around. Without him in the first game, LA were left to sit and counter with no real focus on who to play through. Zlatan changes that. LA are mostly content to play a methodical, possession-oriented game. The big lion isn’t as swift as he once was and transitioning too quickly in attack would leave him behind the run of play too often. LA will pump crosses into the box for Zlatan to get a hold of. That’s a fine strategy, all things considered; he has 16 goals on the season after all. But that’s more than half of all the goals scored by LA. Zlatan - 16, Rest of the Team - 15.
And this explains why LA went after new signing Cristian Pavon. Pavon provides LA with an extremely dynamic winger who should be able to work with Zlatan as well as independently of him. He is fast and creative and can take on anyone 1v1 on the wing. Not to compare too much to that other LA team, but he is what Diego Rossi is to Carlos Vela - a complementing counter balance. Unfortunately for LA, they had that player on the roster in Romain Alessandrini - until he was hurt early in the season. With Pavon on one side and Zlatan in the middle, it’s now up to Uriel Antuna to prove he belongs in the starting lineup. The Manchester City loanee has only two goals and two assists on the season and LA was clearly hoping he would provide more of an impact this season. If Pavon can provide the necessary oomph in the attack and Alessandrini returns healthy toward the end of the month – yikes!
One player who has been producing nicely is also a new face we didn’t see in the first game, Favio Alvarez. The Argentinian was signed in May and has become an integral player for LA. With three goals and two assists in his 12 games played, he is tied for second on the team in goals scored. Alvarez slots into the no. 10 spot and can pull the strings for LA. He may not be Diego Valeri, but he’s been a solid addition for LA. Behind him lies the unspoken strength of the team - the two double pivots, Jonathan Dos Santos and Joe Corona. Corona was signed three days before the first Dallas game and naturally looked a bit out of sync in that first one. But he has been a steady presence for most of the campaign and his partnership with Dos Santos has flourished. Of course, Dos Santos is, can be, should be…one of the best midfielders in the league. He has great vision, great technique, and great work rate and his middling production for a player of his caliber is baffling…but I digress. Corona and Dos Santos provide the stability needed for the patient buildup and possession game LA try to incorporate. Both are adept passers with the ball, and good defenders when trying to regain possession Neither will rip your head off but both can dispossess a player cleanly.
In the back, LA have made massive gains from last season. Although Daniel Steres and Giancarlo Gonzalez aren’t the greatest center back pairing in the league, they are solid enough to keep LA out of trouble most of the time. Fullbacks Diego Polenta and Rolf Feltscher have been the upgrade needed for both the offense and defense. Both are big, athletic fullbacks that cover well in defense and move forward with danger. Polenta is the team leader in assists with four and Feltscher has two assists as well. Watch out for both overlapping down the sideline, especially Polenta, as Pavon now provides so much attention that there should be even more space to attack. Locked into the lineup is goalkeeper David Bingham.
Key Matchup: Matt Hedges vs Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ripped straight from the first preview - since it became irrelevant when Zlatan was scratched:
“This is simple, if Hedges and Reto Ziegler can contain the big Swede, Dallas can win this game. Of course, large, physical strikers are always tough for Hedges, and Zlatan is the best of them all. Who keeps who in check?”
It’s going to be even tougher this time around with the talent LA has assembled since that first meeting.
Three Keys to the Game
1. Keep the Goals Coming - If ever Dallas needed a win this season, last game was it. A five-goal thumping made it that much more enjoyable, but Dallas hasn’t proven to be consistent in scoring all season. To keep the good times rolling, keep the goals flowing.
2. Careful Defense - Scoring five goals masked the fact that the defense gave up three goals. Dallas can’t try to outscore teams every game, especially when it takes three-plus goals. It will be even tougher with Zlatan and Pavon on the pitch.
3. Veterans Step Up – With Michael Barrios’ big three assists night and goals from Hollingshead and Santiago Mosquera, the vets took a big step forward in helping inch this team away from the brink. Too often this season that hasn’t been the case. It’s going to need to continue for Dallas to secure a spot in the playoffs.
I’m uneasy about this one. It feels like last game was more of a one-off than a real breakthrough. I want to believe the guys figured a few things out. But it’s going to take more than one game to prove that. The Galaxy are a team capable of beating LAFC, but also losing to Portland. Their last 6 games have been against the top teams in the league, which partially explains their form. And Dallas going on the road against a team that’s reeling from a few poor losses…I just don’t have that faith in Dallas right now. I think a 2-1 loss is in store and that brings us back down to reality. Please prove me wrong Dallas.