Orlando City wraps up a quick two-game home stand looking to start the year four-for-four in the club’s brand new stadium. Standing in the way of that kind of continued success is a solid LA Galaxy squad that looks much different than it did a year ago. The Lions and Galaxy have split their first two MLS meetings, with each team winning at home over the past two years.
Orlando City is coming off a hard-fought 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls last Sunday. The Galaxy defeated the Montreal Impact, 2-0, in their last outing on Friday, April 7, so they have had a couple extra days of rest, which could mitigate the cross-country travel.
How different is the LA Galaxy in both style and personnel since Curt Onalfo took over following the departure of Bruce Arena?
Mike Gray: It's interesting. You wouldn't call 2017 a rebuilding year for the Galaxy. After all, LA has added Romain Alessandrini and Jermaine Jones while holding onto their top talent. But there has been a multi-layered exodus this off-season: the departure of Bruce Arena and subsequently the coaching staff, the international stars like Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Nigel de Jong, the veterans in AJ DeLaGarza, Alan Gordon, Mike Magee and so on.
All these departures have left a sizable vacuum to be filled, leaving Head Coach Curt Onalfo with a team that's in good spirits but lacks cohesive leadership nor an offensive identity.
What we have seen so far from LA this season is fast, direct soccer. Alessandrini's opener vs. Montreal was quite similar to how he scored up in Vancouver: Emmanuel Boateng finds the ball in the left channel and fires a quick pass to Romain centrally and bam — a low powerful finish into the net.
With a 2-3-0 start, including a 1-2-0 record at the StubHub Center, what’s been holding the Galaxy back in 2017?
MG: A lack of fitness. Giovani dos Santos did not start the season healthy, Gyasi Zardes just came back from knee surgery, Ashley Cole recently returned, and Robbie Rogers is still out with a mystery nerve problem. A slew of other injuries, suspensions, and call-ups have decimated the roster, forcing LA to rely on Galaxy II players to the point where the lineup has resembled Los Dos more than anything.
In some ways, it feels like the Galaxy are still in preseason.
Who are some of the new faces that Orlando City fans should be on the lookout for on Saturday?
MG: In addition to the aforementioned Frenchman, Nathan Smith has impressed on the right side of defense with his tireless effort up and down the flank. Described as a "pit bull" by Jermaine Jones, look for another solid performance from the UCLA product this weekend.
What is LA’s injury/suspension situation like and what is your prediction for starting XI and final score?
MG: Injuries: Robbie Rogers (ankle injury)Sebastian Lletget (foot surgery).
Suspensions: Jaime Villarreal (USL suspension).
Projected starting XI: 4-4-2: Clement Diop; Ashley Cole Jelle Van Damme, Daniel Steres, Nathan Smith; Emmanuel Boateng, Jermaine Jones, Joao Pedro, Romain Alessandrini; Giovani Dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes.
Score prediction: 2-2 draw.
Big thanks to Mike from LAG Confidential for giving us some insight on tomorrow's opponents from Southern California.