Match previews

Preview: Union vs LA Galaxy

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

Who: Philadelphia Union vs LA Galaxy
What: MLS Regular Season soccer
Where: PPL Park, Philadelphia, PA, USA
When: 7:30pm EST
Referee: Ismail Elfath. 11 games; FC/gm: 24.2; Y/gm: 2.6; Ejections: 4; Penalties: 6

Even with their glamour star gone, their American star slowly recovering from a four-month bout of “meh” and their Irish talisman hobbled by injury, the LA Galaxy remain exciting. Unlike the New York Red Bulls, the big boys of the west support their swagger with results. The last time the LA Galaxy lost two games in a row was July of 2012, when Michael Farfan and the Union stunned the champs with a late dagger.

The Galaxy only lost two more games the rest of the season; the Union won three of their next four and then entered an eight-game winless streak during which they scored a total of four goals.

Both teams come into this contest seeking some level of consistency. The Galaxy have used a stealthily good defense and Mike Magee’s prolific scoring output to tread water in the middle of the West while the Jack McInerney has feasted on the dregs of the East to power the Union above the postseason cutoff.

As Columbus found out last season, hovering around 1.5 points per game is no way to ensure an invitation to the MLS afterparty. And that is where both clubs find themselves in mid-May.

LA will want at least a point against a Union squad that has maintained a flimsy home fortress, while the local lads should see a midweek match-up as the perfect moment to pounce on a tired and injury-laden opponent.

Opposition Report

Saturday’s loss to Vancouver was the first time the Galaxy have come away empty in a game in which they scored. Typically, the Galaxy have relied on a tough defense to hold them in games when the offense sputters. And sputter it has, though expecting that to continue long-term is a poor bet.

The Galaxy are counting on their well-knowns rounding into form, but in the meantime they are grooming talented young strikers Jack “Cheesy Mac” McBean and Gyasi “Zardoz” Zardes during the busy portions of the schedule. Both players are expected to make big contributions over the next few seasons, but for now the Galaxy will continue to count on Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Mike Magee to dominate the score sheet.

But these young strikers have not been previewed in vain. Zardes’ fine debut against Vancouver could earn him minutes against the Union with Robbie Keane unlikely to go the full ninety in his return from an ankle injury.

In the back, Todd Dunivant remains doubtful with a leg injury, so Greg Cochrane should continue at left back, rounding out one of the best defenses in MLS. Landon Donovan may move to a wide attacking midfield role so Robbie Keane can rejoin the first eleven. Juninho and Mike Magee are the only other two automatic starters in the midfield, with Bruce Arena promising changes after Vancouver sliced through the middle of his team last weekend.

Union update

The Union will make wholesale changes to an underperforming midfield are likely to use the same four midfielders that played in Chicago. John Hackworth may be tempted to rest Keon Daniel, though there is no clear alternative in the middle against a Galaxy squad that will test the Union’s organization with their ball movement. Starting Kleberson or Roger Torres on limited/no minutes is a risky bet against an opportunistic team with two of the better counterattacking outside midfielders in MLS running the flanks.

In the back, the Gabriel Farfan trade means the Union will be using Raymon Gaddis on the left for the foreseeable future. Whether Bakary Soumare continues in the middle is entirely contingent on Jeff Parke’s hamstring.

With an eye on the meat of the schedule, Conor Casey might be rested against LA, so Sebastien Le Toux may get his chance up front with Jack McInerney. Six of the Union’s next eight games are against teams near the top of the standings, and as the summer heat hits Casey’s minutes will have to be monitored closely.

Key matchups

Keep your retinal spotlight firmly on the two left backs. Not only are they the least experienced members of their respective back lines, but each coach will have the right mid/left back matchup circled on their chalkboards. Raymon Gaddis’ prodigious talents on the right were on display against Chicago, but the second year pro has struggled mightily on the left. Why Gaddis suffers from some positional form of Zoolander’s ambi-turner issue is an open question, but with no reasonable backup in sight the Union have gone all-in on their young speedster.

John Hackworth is probably looking at Greg Cochrane and wondering two things: 1) Why didn’t I draft that guy when I had the chance? and 2) I wonder if that rookie can deal with a fast guy running at him all game? Question one is a philosophical debate Hack must have with himself; question two is empirical.

Danny Cruz is going to do his Tom Cruise action hero impression for at least sixty minutes, and Cochrane is going to have to keep the Union midfielder out of the middle. Luckily for Cochrane, he will have one of the best positional defenders in MLS on his hip for support. Omar Gonzalez’s box presence will force the Philadelphia wingers to up their service game if they want to avoid the Jack Mac death stare that often follows a muffed cross. The Galaxy have allowed one goal off of a corner or cross all season because of their positioning as much as their height.

Separating McInerney from Gonzalez should be the number one goal of John Hackworth’s tactical setup. Few teams have central defenders as mobile and intelligent and De La Garza and Gonzalez. De La Garza, however, is prone to lapses of attention, and the Union will have more success if his shadow lands on McInerney most often. Le Toux or Casey will be tasked will either bodying up Gonzalez or dragging him away from the support role he plays so well.


Mike Magee has been the spark plug for the Galaxy this season.

Bruce Arena still has eyes, so he has watched Union tape and has seen how Philly struggles to mark the late far post run. One of Magee’s strengths is his ability to time those late runs to sneak in and either get on a cross or tuck in a rebound. Expect the Galaxy to move Magee and Donovan around as they prod for weak spots in the Union’s transition defense

Tactical thoughts

One mistake teams often make against the Galaxy is playing off their stars, assuming that if they can keep Donovan in front of them, they have a better chance of keeping him off the score sheet. For all his faults, including the intelligent hamster thing he does when tackled, Landon Donovan is one of the few players in MLS that can make a living taking people on directly.

With speed to burn at outside back, the Union can afford to use high pressure on Donovan and force him away from goal. In fact, the daring coach might even consider a man-marking system if the Galaxy come out with a single striker. When the two most dangerous offensive creators are on the wings, keeping your fullbacks will be old school but possibly very advantageous.

Prediction: 1-1

The Union will get off to a strong start and sneak one by the Galaxy by forcing a fast pace early on. LA will slowly take control of the midfield, slow things down, and eventually find a way to pull apart the Union defense.




  1. -nickt.- says:

    you are optimistic

  2. It boggles my mind that Gaddis is our LB.
    Like, it’s a massive failure on several different levels.
    Like, why even consider him for that? He has no left foot, and even last year he was nothing more than an average (yet surprising for a second round pick I guess) fill in for Williams.
    Then like, Garfan was fine at LB and was actually filling in nicely and was on his way to getting legit professional experience at that position.
    THEN, we pass on several *real* LBs in the draft (and now we have to hear about how good Cochraine is doing in LA) because Hack tells us he loves this random no name signing.
    We cut this random no name signing.
    Then we see Gaddis struggle to be a decent LB in the first few games. And now we’re stuck with him.
    No we’re going forward with a liability at LB, along with a continued liability at EVERY position in the midfield with a coach that seems either blind to this reality or hopelessly incompetent.
    This is so depressing.
    3-1 LA.

  3. JediLos117 says:

    Union 0-3 LA

  4. frankswild says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks about Zardoz

  5. Kenso Josh says:

    Thanks for adding the prediction. May it be so.

  6. I just don’t see (a) how we will score on this team, or (b) how we will stop this team from scoring on us. I expect a 2-0 LA win that will feel worse then the actual score.

  7. One thing going for the Union’s chances is the Galaxy’s schedule. This Sunday they have The Most Important Game In The Regular Season (tm, MLS Marketing). If their performance vs. Vancouver is any indication, they may already looking ahead.

  8. galaxy had a blunder against Vancouver, looked lifeless and flat. Bruce is the best manager in MLS and probably gave them an earful and will make sure it won’t happen again. Expect a Galaxy tonight that wants to makeup for that dreadful performance in Vancouver. 3-1 Galaxy win i think

    • VERY nice preview though 🙂

      • George H says:

        Actually, the Galaxy dominated Vancouver for most of that match, but couldn’t cash it. And then Teibert scored a goal out of nowhere and Vancouver got their tails up.

        Watching how the Galaxy ferociously press the ball and how the Union struggle to keep possession under normal pressure makes me very concerned about tonight.

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