Los Angeles Galaxy 2019 Season Preview / by Harrison Crow

Point-above-replacement  values are  explained here .  Non-penalty expected goals + expected assists  are  explained here , and you can see all players’ xG+xA in our  interactive expected goals tables .  Touch percent  is the percentage of total team touches by that player while he is on the field, which can be found in our  interactive expected passing tables.

Point-above-replacement values are explained here. Non-penalty expected goals + expected assists are explained here, and you can see all players’ xG+xA in our interactive expected goals tables. Touch percent is the percentage of total team touches by that player while he is on the field, which can be found in our interactive expected passing tables.

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Undisputedly, last year was a disappointment... wait, I used that line already. Oh, well... this is pretty near the end of our “we probably should have made the playoffs but something went wrong” team previews fashion line. The Galaxy may have finally found the right management pieces but are they ready to lead the organization back to glory this season?

2018 in review

The thing is, I’m not sure they deserved to get to the playoffs last year. Zlatan did just about as much as you could have reasonably asked, but the backline was atrocious, and it’s not as if no one saw it coming. Here is what I wrote just last February:

“I’m still not sold that this team is good enough defensively. Even if the Galaxy are good or even great on the attacking side (which still has its own set of question marks), this could be another bottom of the table season if the defense isn't fixed.

Last year was a terrible year for the defensive side of this club, and the team only replaced two of the four backline. It’s not hard to see this defensive side folding in upon itself once more as one of the worst in the league.”

I’m not here to boast or claim to be Nostradamus, I'll just remind you all that it wasn’t a total surprise the Galaxy were terrible on defense last year. I will admit, even I was surprised by how bad Jørgen Skjelvik turned out to be and how easily teams found it to carve their way through the Galaxy’s back-line, especially after Ashley Cole hit the Roger Murtaugh wall. It was akin to any 10-year-old boy and a piece of wood in just about any Mark Twain story.

But while it’s simple enough to lay the entire season at the feet of the defense, the other side of the coin is that the rest of the team isn’t exactly blameless. The central midfield was disorganized, Jonathan Dos Santos specifically wasn’t sufficient, and Ola Kamara on the wings was a train wreck defensively.

That being said, the Galaxy attack was one of the most dangerous and overwhelming in the league. Not only did they finish second in goals scored but they were also tied for the most multi-goal games in MLS last year. This was conducted by their three foremost attackers.

Zlatan, the Lion demigod, along with unsurprisingly being one of the foremost attacking presence in the league, showed his innate ability to imprint himself on games and change games by sheer force of will. We’ve seen it afar off in Europe for over a decade, but here it was on full display as he nearly single-handedly turned the tide and carried the Galaxy to the playoffs.

Kamara, despite his impropriety on the defensive side out wide, showed how pure of an attacking figure he can be, regardless of the system or creative infrastructure. He just found ways to get to the ball and go at goal, which lead to him having success in spite of being moved around the field and pushed into unusual roles.

In the same vein, Romain Alessandrini continued to be one of the league's most underrated wingers, providing excellent creative attacking play. It really is curious for Alessandrini to be the most creative and technical player on one of the most storied franchises in the league, yet somehow be as underrated as he is.

But despite having three of the most prominent attacking figures in the league and being as dominant as they were at times, the Galaxy were unable to find their way to overcome the internal bleeding and perform the needed triage to see them through to the playoffs.

The 2018 Galaxy was a strange two-faced character that both wasn’t good enough and was among the very best. I don’t know if there was another team in MLS history this strange and awesome and bad. It’s was an unusual ride and I suspect 2019, rather than being a different story, will rather just be a follow-up chapter.

Offseason Roster Changes

Departures

Headed into the season, the Galaxy have parted ways with seven individuals. First and foremost, Michael Ciani, who played 1,600 somewhat frustrating minutes. His involvement in the defense was mostly related to negative occurrences rather than positive ones. The Galaxy’s center backs seemed to consist of big strong aerial figures but lacked true athleticism either on the break or in tight places which lead to their beating much too frequently.

Likewise, Ashley Cole had some good moments last year. Unfortunately, they mostly, if not unanimously, occurred in the first half of games. He wilted dramatically in the final 40 minutes of matches, and his drop off was rough to watch as the season unfolded.

It’s hardly surprising as he turned 38 this past December, but it’s jarring after the impact he’s had over three seasons. It was unfair to expect a lot of quality from him with nary a second thought to depth or late game subs. Dave Romney ended up being that de-facto piece but hardly provided comparable or even serviceable depth.

I do hope people look back on Cole’s time in MLS fondly. It was surprisingly good and is a fitting epilogue to his storied career in Europe.

The last departure of real note is long time club figure Baggio Husidic. Husidic has been a pretty reliable piece over parts of the previous five seasons for the Galaxy, but has shown a noticeable decline and spent the majority of time on the bench last year. At 31 he’s no longer a guy who should be making starts up the spine for teams but could still be a valuable depth piece for another club.

Arrivals

In a lot of ways, the Galaxy feel like they’ve not changed a thing going into 2019, but also seem like they’re a much-improved organization. It starts with the fact that they actually improved their upper tier organizational management by hiring Dennis te Kloese as General Manager.

Even before the tweet by Parchman, it had been feeling like a different team in the preseason, even to an outsider. However, while Parchman and his contacts credit te Kloese, my perspective looking back into the organization seems to reflect new head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

It feels kind of poetic in a way that after the late Sigi Schmid finished his career there, that Schelotto, who maintained a good relationship with Schmid, would be his successor. But Schelotto being hired to coach this team is less about his time under Schmid and more about what he’s done in Argentina with Lanús (winning a Copa Sudamericana in 2013) and then Boca Juniors and reaching a Copa Libertadores final. His accomplishments as a young coach and pedigree as a player make him a fantastic fit for the LA Galaxy.

Aside from the front office upgrades, the team has added a few pieces for the field too. Diego Polenta had been connected with Schelotto during his time with Boca Juniors, and his addition brings a potentially massive jump in quality to a back line that desperately needs it.

Additionally, the depth of young Mexican U20 delight Uriel Antuna will provide some needed attacking depth on the wings. Prodigal son Juninho will give the club some needed quality of central midfield depth that can help both defensively and on the attack by connecting passes.

Roster Outlook

Goalkeeper

I can’t believe that Schelotto would start Matt Lampson over David Bingham. It has not looked that way from the early reports, but I also can’t believe they’d go with Bingham again without much in the form of competition.

I swing back and forth as to the quality of Bingham and whether or not he’s an MLS caliber starting keeper. There is a part of me that thinks he’s an above average athletic guy who can really help minimize fast break opportunities. There is another part of me that says he doesn’t do enough to organize the line and is too frequently out of position. He’s probably better than what we have in all our minds after that dreadful season. But he’s also probably not a lot better than that either.

Centerback

They. Need. Help. 

But Diego Polenta could very well be what this team needs. The 27-year-old doesn’t quite have the big name cache you would think of when you say “how does this LA Galaxy team improve their backline?” but Polenta has shown quality last few years in Uruguay and has a history of being a leader on the field. Most superlatives about leadership and accountability are usually ones which I dismiss. They’re so closely associated with someone who got named the captain for one reason or another, and it doesn’t usually correlate with long term success at a new destination. However, the Galaxy have badly needed someone who can help organize and direct the backline over the past two seasons, and I get a strong feeling this could be “the guy”.

Daniel Steres and Dave Romney have not been the guys, however both have traits that I could get behind as 2nd or 3rd defensive CBs. They’re event type players and I have a theory about centerback pairings and how to find success. I think you need one that can be the organizer who maybe doesn’t show much very much in the “event” column (interceptions, tackles, etc.) but does the little things to make the other successful. The other needs to be “event” oriented type CB. In this case, Romny and Steres are both very good at gathering successful events but have huge holes elsewhere that impact how you view those events.

My hope would be that one, or even both, would leverage the addition of Polenta, who will help leverage both of these guys as ball winners while being able to hide some of their less admirable traits.

There is also a question of what to make from Tomas Hilliard-Arce who despite the backline being bad, was considered one of the top defensive college players in last year’s draft. It seemed difficult for the team to find him opportunities despite him looking competent.

Daniel Steres and Dave Romney have not been the guys, however, both have traits that I could get behind as 2nd or 3rd defensive CBs. They’re event type players, and I have a theory about centerback pairings and how to find success. I think you need one that can be the organizer who maybe doesn’t show much very much in the “event” column (interceptions, tackles, etc.) but does the little things to make the other successful. The other needs to be “event” oriented type CB. In this case, Romney and Steres are both very good at gathering successful events but have huge holes elsewhere that impact how you view those events.

My hope would be that one, or even both, would leverage the addition of Polenta, who will help leverage both of these guys as ball winners while being able to hide some of their less admirable traits.

There is also a question of what to make from Tomas Hilliard-Arce who despite the backline being bad, was considered one of the top defensive college players in last year’s draft. It seemed difficult for the team to find him opportunities despite him looking competent.

Fullback

The right-back position, on the other hand, is firmly in the hands of Rolf Feltscher. The Venezuelan looks to have a dominant role this year as he’s fully healed after almost three straight years of injuries which have limited him to less than a full cumulative season over that time. However, it seems odd that the team, once more, doesn’t really have a back-up option for Feltscher, who has an injury history. If needed, I’m assuming either Romney, Skjelvik or even Hugo Arellano could step into the role, but at a considerable drop-off.

Wide Midfielder

In front of Feltscher on the right wing will be Romain Alessandrini, who I already raved about above. The guy is a dynamite attacker either through creative measures for others or when necessary through means for himself. He’s going to be an impact attacker this year. You can almost already put it down, ten goals, ten assists.

The real question is where does Sebastian Lletget play when he’s healthy? He’s most likely going to play a vital role for this team but where is still unclear. He’s at times featured out wide, but he seems most able in the middle of the field, which all discussion from people in the know points to him playing.

If Lletget is headed to the center of the park, and all reports point to Schelotto leveraging a 4-4-2 formation—that would see that Kamara primarily is up top with Zlatan. That means the left wing will be comprised of Emmanuel Boateng, Efrain Alvarez, or Antuna.

The early word out of Galaxy camp is that Antuna could very well take the role, and young Alvarez will most certainly get minutes. But right now the most experienced starter the team has is Ema Boateng, and I suspect he’ll get the initial nod.

Central Midfielder

Teamed in midfield with Lletget will be Jona dos Santos. The real questions that I’m still not really sure how to answer are A) is he any good and B) is this a good tandem?  

Player Minutes Touch% Shot% KeyPass% xB% Tackle% PassPerDefAct
Michael Bradley 3034 14% 0.9% 2.5% 91.9% 61.0% 161
Eric Remedi 1169 10% 1.8% 2.6% 82.6% 51.0% 134
Bastian Schweinsteiger 2882 14% 2.1% 3.7% 83.0% 68.0% 144
Jack Price 2969 13% 1.8% 3.7% 87.6% 68.0% 143
Alex Ring 2775 12% 2.6% 1.6% 92.3% 63.0% 74
Wil Trapp 2796 13% 0.7% 1.8% 95.2% 72.0% 125
Russell Canouse 1647 11% 1.3% 1.1% 89.5% 84.0% 97
Osvaldo Alonso 1943 12% 1.8% 1.8% 91.8% 82.0% 129
Sean Davis 2736 12% 0.9% 4.6% 81.9% 70.0% 110
Ilie Sanchez 3301 12% 3.4% 3.7% 91.9% 58.0% 107
Jonathan dos Santos 2022 14% 1.5% 3.3% 93.1% 62.0% 113
Check out our glossary for the definition of each field.

Dos Santos isn’t really a defensive midfielder that is going to come in with a wraith-like tackling ability, instead he tends to be a deep-ish lying midfielder. He can pick up some defensive events, as shown in the table he’s basically average or better, but he’s a bit more Michael Bradley and Wil Trapp-esque in that he’s most effective going forward making long passes and picking out runners with the ball at his feet.

So here lies the most significant concern for this tandem: who does the dirty work? Maybe dos Santos is good enough. Maybe no one needs to do the dirty work. Maybe they don’t worry about it because they’ll be possession heavy and have the ability to hang two or more goals on their opponents each game. But not being able to win the ball back effectively is disconcerting.

That said, it’s not as if they don’t have guys on the roster that can’t win the ball back. They still have Perry Kitchen, Juninho, and Servando Carrasco. All those guys are somewhat proficient or at least average ball winners on the defensive side.

Forward

Obviously the attacking and forward depth on this team is among the top tier in the league. Not only do they have Zlatan but also Kamara, who over the last three seasons has produced the highest amount of expected goals (50.6) in the league.

Okay, sure, virtual goals aren’t the same as real goals, but Kamara has his share of those too with 38 total from open play in 83 MLS starts. That puts him in third in his tenure trailing only the likes of Bradley Wright-Phillips and David Villa from open play across his three seasons. Much like Alessandrini, you can pencil Kamara in to score a bucket of goals.

Then you have The Lion. The demigod. Zlatan Ibrahimović. The guy has outpaced his expected goals average every year since... well, as long as they’ve been available and we’ve had data. The guy is just simply unreal and is every bit the legend he’s built in his own mind and will into our plane of existence.

Season Team Apps Min G A Sh90 KP90 xG xA xGC xB xG90 xA90 xGC90 xB90
2018 L.A. Galaxy 27 2287 22 6 4.91 1.51 15.4 3.9 27.3 14.48 0.65 0.16 1.15 0.62
2017/2018 Manchester United 5 97 0 0 3.71 1.86 0.3 0.12 1.03 0.73 0.27 0.11 0.95 0.68
2016/2017 Manchester United 28 2435 17 5 4.25 1.77 14.64 5.12 20.06 6.22 0.54 0.19 0.74 0.23
2015/2016 Paris Saint Germain 31 2553 38 13 5.46 1.62 28.37 9.1 36.01 11.61 1 0.32 1.27 0.41
2014/2015 Paris Saint Germain 24 2002 19 6 3.91 1.66 18.95 7.08 21.29 7.17 0.85 0.32 0.96 0.32
Manchester and PSG data via Understat. Check out our glossary for the definition of each field.

Many feel his numbers may drop a bit but that his creation numbers, which were rather low last year, get will better. And the truth is that his underlying numbers were a bit low compared to his time at PSG, but they wasn’t too far off from his time in Manchester. At 37 you have to wonder how much longer Zlatan can hold off time.

As depth you have Bradford Jamieson IV, who in the last three years has accumulated just over 1,400 minutes but hardly any interesting underlying numbers. He has some raw ability, but at 22 he’s going to have to show it to merit sticking around.

I’ve yet to mention the versatile Chris Pontius because... well, to be honest, the dude could just about find himself anywhere at this stage. He’s a creative type that could fill in for Zlatan up top or as a number 10. He still has a step or two and could find himself out on the wings, though Sigi even used him as a fullback last year. Who knows how Party Boy will be used, but rest assured we’ll see him and he’ll be spectacular.Giovani dos Santos

I set this aside and put off talking about Giovani dos Santos through this column mostly because I wanted to talk about him removed from everything else. Because regardless of how MLS handles his situation, and I truly believe it’s going to be an occasion that the Galaxy fan and MLS are equally unhappy for different reasons. Someone is going to have to figure out how to use his talents, and I have one small idea.

You let him be him. 

I really thought under Sigi that dos Santos was going to get back to what he did in 2016 and remind people how talented he was. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and his stock somehow sank lower.

Schmid figured out how to harness Clint Dempsey in a way only few managers really ever did. He teamed him with a player with a similar but complementary skill set (Obafemi Martins) and then just got out of the way. Adding Ola Kamara last off-season had the potential to do something similar for GdS, but in a different way. Unfortunately then Zlatan came and basically did exactly what they were hoping GdS would do, only better in every single imaginable way.

If LA manage to keep GdS around, someone is going to have to do something with him that’s different than what they’ve been trying the last two years. But, again, I think that’s already been put into place. Just use him as a lesser form of Zlatan and then get out of the way.

For the life of me I still don’t understand why a team that isn’t really making full use of their DPs didn’t make a grab for dos Santos. Maybe it wasn’t a style fit, maybe they feared the personality in the locker room and maybe LA just didn’t want to part with him. Could be a few other things that I’m just not considering.

But the point is that he’s not useless and he still has value. If Zlatan were to miss time or need to be subbed off, dos Santos can probably fill in that role and do so pretty well so long as nothing is expected of him.

Tactics/Style

The word is that the Galaxy plan to play a pretty classic 4-4-2. I would imagine that would mean with Zlatan kind of playing a false nine at times and dropping under Ola while roaming and finding his own spaces. It’ll be interesting to see how that will work with Lletget looking to push up from the midfield and occupy similar spaces.  

I also think they’ll try to leverage possession in lieu of trying to defend and win back possession in their own half. Though that’s only half as scary as any team that’s going to be able to press them and create counters on their defense. The question will be how they subvert that pressure, maintain possessions for long periods of time, and then use that to create consistent opportunities.

 I think there is a lot here that isn’t a finished concept and I would suspect that we won’t really see their final form until April or May.

2019 Expectations

The Galaxy have a huge and varied possible outcome. There is a chance their backline comes together, remains healthy, and their attack continues to outpace their underlying numbers. They could finish high or even win the West. But I think it’s more likely that they don’t make the playoffs than finish with a playoff bye.

That being said, I think the marginal improvements of the back six should get them over the red line to be a playoff team this year. Though things will need to hold together. Polenta has to be good, Fletscher has to stay healthy, and they have to figure out left back. 

Once more I’m skeptical about this defense, but less so than I was last season. I think this team isn’t complete, and judging by what spots they have open there could be some mid-season moves that push this team’s median outcome higher.