Amid all the Wayne Rooney talk, it’s important to remember that D.C. United’s long, winding road to Buzzard Point is just about over. The Black-and-Red have one last away game tomorrow night against the LA Galaxy before they can kick things off at Audi Field. The new signing and new home are going to get more attention, of course, but United flat-out needs to get some points, particularly after throwing away a winnable game over the weekend.
The Galaxy have been pretty unconvincing this season, and their eight home games have been evenly split between four wins and four losses. Setting side early-season wins over Portland and LAFC while both of those clubs were still finding themselves, LA’s “big” wins have come against Real Salt Lake and in Chicago (hardly impressive sides), and they come into this game having thrown away a 3-1 lead en route to a 3-3 draw against the lowly San Jose Earthquakes.
United fans will be quite familiar with LA’s problem: they’re good going forward, but they can’t defend. They score just slightly less often on a per-game basis than D.C., and they concede less often than D.C., but the margins are pretty close, as are the problems. The Galaxy have plenty of talented attacking players and can break open just about any defense, but once you get past their midfield it’s a distinctly unimpressive back line.
However, for our purposes, it’s an ever-changing injury list that impacts LA’s lineup more than anything else. The Galaxy have preferred to play 4231 this season, but they’ve tried a 352 and a 442 earlier this month before returning to their norm. We’ll keep those one-game experiments in mind, but as of now, expect a 4231:
LA acquired David Bingham over the winter after he fell out of favor in San Jose. He hasn’t exactly rebuilt his reputation in 2018, but he’s not quite as bad as he was last year. Still, United should have an edge in goal tonight, as Bingham’s rebound control and judgment remain suspect.
At right back, Dave Romney is basically just filling in for the injured Rolf Feltscher, as the LA roster doesn’t have a lot of other options (which should sound familiar). He’s become a utility defender over the years, and as always it’s a good idea to attack the guy that isn’t a natural fullback. There is a small chance that former United trialist Sheanon Williams, who recently signed with LA, gets a start.
LA’s center backs have been a huge problem all season long. Michael Ciani and Jorgen Skjelvik both tend to get pulled out of position on a regular basis, and the root of most of the Galaxy’s defensive problems start with them. They do have some decent speed, but it’s fair to expect them to struggle with good movement from guys like Darren Mattocks and Yamil Asad.
Ashley Cole, at 37, is still plugging away at left back. He makes better decisions than the rest of this back four, but can still have moments where he’s strangely disengaged, and his temper is still an issue. Don’t be shocked if United tries to test his speed by trying to get Mattocks in behind him, or perhaps by bringing someone like Bruno Miranda in on the right flank.
When the Galaxy signed Perry Kitchen, it seemed like the answer to their prayers after spending all of 2017 with a bunch of box-to-box guys failing to screen the back four. Kitchen has been respectable since returning, but it would take a superhuman effort to hide LA’s defense to the extent needed. United should know full well what to expect out of a guy who spent 5 years here: toughness, good spatial awareness, reliable but unambitious passing, and a deceptively good presence in the air.
Kitchen’s partner is normally Jonathan Dos Santos, but he (and his brother Gio) are not yet back from Mexico’s World Cup run. That plus an apparent injury to Servando Carrasco — who is not on the injury report, but was mentioned as not being at 100% recently — leaves the gig open to either Joao Pedro or Baggio Husidic. Joao Pedro has been an afterthought for much of the season only to get some minutes recently, while Husidic appears to be a player Sigi Schmid only wants to use off the bench. Still, he might opt to rotate given that the Galaxy are in the middle of a three-game week.
The attacking midfield trio is likely to be a fluid group. Romain Alessandrini is the most important part, despite probably starting out of position in a central role. The former Marseille winger is very dangerous going to goal and has generally been one of LA’s few success stories in the past 1.5 seasons. Given that he can play on either wing, it’s very likely we’ll be seeing him pop up all over the place tonight.
Out wide, LA has been largely relying on Chris Pontius to play on the right due to injuries and consistency among their other wide options. Pontius hasn’t been in the form he had with the Philadelphia Union, but he’s still a good complimentary piece for the Galaxy. On the other side, Bradford Jamieson IV has slowly pushed his way into regular minutes, though he has looked better playing in the middle than out wide. Emmanuel Boateng could be an option if he’s over whatever knock kept him out on the weekend, and if he plays, the Galaxy have some real speed that their attack otherwise will lack.
Up top, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Zlatan. First of all, an important reminder of what this site hopes happens to him tonight:
I want #DCU players to disrespect Zlatan.— Jason Anderson, whose team won the Stanley Cup (@chestrockwell14) March 23, 2018
To encourage this, I will donate $10 to the charity of choice of any @dcunited player who nutmegs (true nutmeg, no pass/shot through the legs) Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I will add a bonus $10 to this bounty for nutmegs that make him fall down.
With that out of the way, United is in for a severe test. Ibra is still a powerhouse of a player despite being in his late 30s, and crucially, he knows exactly how to leverage his strength and size even against larger, stronger players. On top of that, he’s still got world-class skill when it comes to striking a ball, and he’s as audacious as ever. Zlatan can turn windows that other players in MLS can’t put to good use into goals, and bottling him up is probably more about restricting his touches than it is about shutting him down once he gets the ball.
LA’s bench is pretty thin these days, so they don’t have much in the way of game-changing subs. Ariel Lassiter (whose father Roy scored a boatload of goals for United and the USMNT back in the day) can slot in up top or out wide. Boateng would be a potential game-changer if he makes the 18, but that’s completely up in the air. The same goes for players like Ola Kamara and Sebastian Lletget, who are on the injury list with no out/doubtful/questionable designation.