Preview: Union must protect wide areas in back to keep LA off the board


Los Angeles Galaxy are officially more than one player this season. Uriel Antuna and Romain Alessandrini are legitimate threats off the wings, Joe Corona can unlock a defense and put in a shift in front of his own back line, and Jonathan Dos Santos isn’t trying to play Superman in the midfield now.

But at the same time… yeah, they’re still all about Zlatan.

The big Swedish star accounts for over half his team’s goals and he will be the difference-maker on Saturday if LA makes it four straight wins by knocking off the Union. Take nothing away from the rest of the Galaxy front five, but the simple truth is that for all the potential they have to turn this team into a juggernaut, center back Daniel Steres is second on the club in goals with two and Chris Pontius (hi, old friend!) is third on Expected Goals.

Alessandrini and Antuna have not even been that productive in support, with the two fullbacks — Rolf Feltscher on the right and Jorgen Skjelvik on the left — tops on the squad in Expected Assists. This team has thrived by dumping the ball into the box and letting their ego-laden giant up front do the rest.

And yeah, he can do that.

On the other hand, Philly has found success by spreading the attacking burden around. David Accam stepped up before Ale Bedoya and Cory Burke provided huge moments a week ago. Fabian, Haris Medunjanin, and Kai Wagner all have more key passes — passes that set up shots — than anybody on the Galaxy, and the Union have become a shutdown defensive unit to support their offensive unit.

That defensive solidity — two goals given up and only one from open play in the last four matches — is borne on organization up front and in midfield. Even the shots the Union do give up come off of set pieces, and after Toronto and Kansas City created numerous man advantages wide in Philly’s attacking third that zone has dried up for opponents.

Los Angeles will undoubtedly target that area and look to use their wingers to free up the service of their fullbacks. That will be the prime battle zone for LA and Philly will need to both protect it with proactive pressure higher up the pitch and control the box to prevent Big Z from punishing anything that arrives in the red zone.

Haris Medunjanin recently spoke about the Union working on protecting the box by allowing Andre Blake to control one zone while the center backs take the next and the midfielders the next. If this spacing is done well, Philly can then quickly transition out of the back and into attacks against a very mediocre but almost embarrassingly responsible Galaxy back line. If organized, LA has shown they can be annoyingly tough to break down. But in transition they don’t have the athleticism to control a dynamic Union side that can exploit them for speed.

Philly travels to LA today before marching into battle on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET, live on PHL17.