Friday’s clash between LAFC and the LA Galaxy (10 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN) finds the two teams occupying different levels within the Major League Soccer hierarchy.
The first half of the campaign saw the Black and Gold do things mostly their own way. LAFC sit atop the Supporters’ Shield standings with 36 points in 18 games, and such was their level of success in that span that general manager John Thorrington made what could be considered a pair of luxury signings. in veteran Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini and star Wales winger. Gareth Bale.
During his unveiling, Chiellini indulged in false modesty when he said: “[LAFC] have fantastic defenders. Why did they call me?” as if a team could not benefit from its pedigree (nine times Serie A champion with Juventus, reigning European champion with the Azzuri) and experience (18 years spent in Turin). There was, however, some truth in Chiellini’s assessment. Steve Cherundolo’s side are tied for the second-best defensive record in MLS, conceding just 1.1 goals per game. His offense has also been lively, tied for the top of the league with 35 goals from a staggering 14 players, averaging 1.94 goals per game.
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Credit Thorrington for not being complacent. The additions of Chiellini and Bale indicate that one of the strongest teams in the league is going from strength to strength. Thorrington might not be done either, with ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman says LAFC could ‘roll the dice’ on former Manchester United striker Jesse Lingard – who is out of contract and negotiating in the US with two MLS clubs, sources have told ESPN’s Rob Dawson – and Michele Giannone from TUDN signaling that the club could end up moving Cristian Arango forward.
The Galaxy’s season – not to mention their off-season acquisitions – has been more random. LA sits fourth in the Western Conference with a fifth-best defense in the league, but its hold there is tenuous: the Galaxy are only three points clear of eighth-place Minnesota United. .
More concerning is that while Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez more than lived up to his Designated Player billing with six goals, the team’s other two DPs, Douglas Costa and Kevin Cabral, combined for a measly two goals and zero help. This reinforces the refrain that the best MLS teams need their DPs producing near their maximum. With the likes of Victor Vazquez and Efrain Alvarez unable to take over the creative slack, it’s clear the Galaxy can’t be included in the league’s top flight just yet.
The Galaxy trumpeted their own signing on Wednesday, announcing the acquisition of former Parma midfielder Gaston Brugman. On the face of it, that’s disappointing, given the team’s needs going forward and Brugman’s talents doing little to meet them. This feeling is compounded when you look around the league and see how teams are either being inventive or just using brute force in the market.
Inter Miami CF got creative by acquiring former league MVP Alejandro Pozuelo from Toronto FC for what a source told ESPN is $150,000 in stipend. It’s a low-risk and highly rewarding move for a team still feeling the effects of sanctions imposed by MLS for violating league rules in 2020. If Pozuelo doesn’t work out, Miami can sever ties as his contract is underway at the end of the season, which partly explains why it was available at such a minimal cost. If he excels, a new deal can certainly be done.
Toronto plundered the Italian market by acquiring Lorenzo Insigne from Napoli, former Genoa captain Domenico Criscito and apparently Federico Bernardeschi as well, now that the 28-year-old’s contract at Juve has expired. These are the types of signings – star players with something still in the tank – that the Galaxy used to do. And no, Costa doesn’t fall into that category given his downward career trajectory and the circumstances in which he ended his loan spell with Gremio, in which he fell out of favor with fans during a campaign plagued by relegation.
Other teams have done their job in pre-season. The Seattle Sounders landed Albert Rusnak as a free agent. LAFC also tapped into the free agent market by securing former Sporting Kansas City midfielder Ilie Sanchez, and also acquired United States international Kellyn Acosta in a trade with Colorado and goaltender Maxime Crepeau from Vancouver. The Galaxy was not idle. They brought in Mark Delgado, Raheem Edwards and Vazquez, but LAFC proved more adept at filling the holes in their roster. This is a process in which the Galaxy is still very engaged.
Of course, not all moves need to make a splash. Players doing the dirty work can have a significant impact, and Brugman’s arrival seems more fundamental than the moves their Crosstown rivals have recently made. In a video that accompanied the announcement, manager Greg Vanney explained how Brugman’s arrival will allow Delgado and Rayan Raveloson to play higher up the pitch. The hope is that the ripple effect of Brugman’s arrival will raise the attacking level of the whole team, which has been decidedly average.
It’s also a signing that seems to have more of Vanney’s fingerprints on it, especially compared to the Costa acquisition. It might seem like an obvious progression for a manager in his second year with a club, but recent Galaxy history underlines that having that kind of control isn’t as easy as it looks.
The mantra of Galaxy managers and general managers over the past few years is that the organization did not have the data scouting and analysis infrastructure in place to be consistently effective in the transfer market. Former manager Sigi Schmid said so. Former general manager Dennis te Kloese said so. Vanney, in an interview with The Athletic two months ago, mentioned that the process was underway. This suggests that the organizational dysfunction that has plagued the Galaxy organization since Bruce Arena’s departure in 2016 has not been entirely eradicated.
If Brugman is successful, his modest track record – he spent the last season in the Spanish second tier with Real Oviedo – would count as a sign that at least in this case the Galaxy have done their homework. But it also seems a bit difficult to rely on Delgado and Raveloson to start the attack, despite the latter scoring twice in last weekend’s 4-0 demolition of CF Montreal. Both are solid players, but neither artist’s story shows that they are consistent chance makers, which is what Chicharito needs to truly excel.
Friday’s game is just one in a long season. As with most derbies, current form matters little, but LAFC’s long-term prospects look brighter as they put some distance between themselves and their rivals.