The Fire head out to Los Angeles to take on the Galaxy in a one-game road trip. The match is the final away match to MLS’s Western Conference this year. The team will hope to regain the road form they found in the last time they were on Pacific time.
The L.A. Galaxy, meanwhile, will hope that they can show the same form they did against the Philadelphia Union, their last Eastern Conference opponent, who they bested 3-1 at home on July 8th, in what was actually the Galaxy’s second-most recent MLS match of the season.
Out of the Fire’s ten remaining opponents in the regular season, the Galaxy currently have the second-worst record after current Wooden Spoon leaders Inter Miami, presenting the visitors with one of their clearest shots at three points as they hope to hold on to a spot in the postseason.
This is the fifty-first match between two of the most tenured clubs in the league, and their first regular season match visiting the Galaxy away since the opening week of the 2019 regular season.
All time: 17W-9D-24L, 60 pts out of 150
Last Match: April 16, 2022: Fire 0-0 LA Galaxy at Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
Record: 5W-7D-10L (22 pts)
The L.A. Galaxy were an absolute basket case to begin the year, not registering their first win until eight games into the season, and found themselves with just three wins and five draws in the first half of the season alongside nine losses. As with the Fire, the Galaxy started turning things around in the second half of the going 2W-2D-1L in the second half of the season.
In terms of recent form? The Galaxy don’t really have any – their most recent MLS match was a 4-2 loss to Vancouver on July 15th, and the Galaxy lost both of their Leagues Cup group stage matches against León and Vancouver, as their August 20th match against Real Salt Lake was postponed due to the hurricane that hit Baja and Southern California last week.
Record: 8W-8D-8L (32 pts)
The Fire were the first to find the back of the net, but ultimately it didn’t matter, ultimately falling by the same 3-1 score as they did in Orlando at the start of July. The home defeat stings, but the fact is that Orlando is the only MLS club to have defeated the Fire since mid-June.
When playing away against Western Conference teams this year, the Fire are 4-0-0 in all competitions, including two victories in league play, alongside a U.S. Open Cup victory over Austin and a Leagues Cup win in Minnesota.
Both the L.A. Galaxy and Chicago Fire – two teams that share an extensive history, and which were, at one point, both under the same ownership – have had turbulent seasons that failed to meet expectations early on. Things reached a breaking point for both clubs in May – early in the month, the Fire parted ways with Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson, and later that month, the Galaxy relieved team president Chris Klein of his duties eleven years in his tenure.
Since those dismissals, the Fire fought their way into the postseason picture, and the Galaxy have managed to pick themselves off the mat – if barely – going from last place in the league all the way to 26th in the 29-team league.
For the Galaxy, who made it to the second round of the MLS playoffs last year before bowing out at the hands of their cross-town rivals, making it to the postseason is unlikely, though not yet impossible – the team is nine points away from the ninth and final playoff spot with a game in hand over most of their competition.
The club is certainly going to try to push for the playoffs, however, and they were active in the summer transfer window, bringing in five players to bolster the squad down the stretch. The moves come despite sanctions that prevented the Galaxy from signing any players that required an international transfer certificate (ITC), keeping the team from buying players from clubs in other leagues, all resulting from violating league salary rules in 2019.
The Fire, meanwhile, are looking for points to solidify their hold a postseason spot, with two teams within striking distance and a hard-charging Miami team seeing determined to push their way from Wooden Spoon leader to playoff contender by the end of the season.
The Fire have had good luck out west this season, and they will be facing a Galaxy team that may be showing signs of rust – their last match came at the end of July – and with many of the club’s new additions may see significant minutes, despite having not had a single competitive minute on the pitch for the club so far.
If the Fire get more points against the Galaxy than Montréal get against New England, in a match that should be over before the Fire’s late kickoff, the team will reclaim eighth place but cannot go higher; a loss combined with other results against the team could see them fall as far as 11th and once again on the outside of the postseason picture looking in.
Tactics and Projected Starting Lineups
Out: Gaston Brugman, Martin Caceres, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández
Normally by this time of year, a coach has settled into a basic starting XI, with variations as needed for injuries, suspensions, and rotations. They typically also have one, maybe a couple of formations depending on the situation. Well, not the Galaxy. In 27 matches across all competitions, they’ve used a total of seven formations, none more than eight times. Their most frequently-used formation is a 4-4-2, despite the fact that Galaxy Head Coach Greg Vanney is American and has never played or coached in England.
Part of the reason behind the fluid nature of their lineups has been injuries, starting with Chicharito, who tore his ACL on June 7th. Despite the loss of their most-recognizable player, the Galaxy found a way to get results, in no small part because of the work of Gastón Brugman, whose play in the defensive midfield was key to ball distribution on top of his defensive play.
The Galaxy were getting results – although they were settling for draws more often than the Fire, whose season had a similar upward trajectory at the time, until Brugman had a season-ending injury on July 29 during the Leagues Cup. In the interim on June 23rd, center-back Martín Cáceres, who had been a strong veteran presence on the team’s back line, suffered an injury.
Even though sanctions restricted them to free agents and domestic players, the Galaxy front office responded by trading for reinforcements, ultimately bringing in five additions in the summer transfer window.
That all makes predicting a Starting XI – or a formation, or anything else – more difficult than normal for a team with just a dozen games left in their season. Still: The additions (and notably, lack of adding a significant new player at striker) suggest that Vanney’s squad is best-suited to a 4-3-3, which he had been utilizing more as the season wore on even prior to the new faces.
Jonathan Bond remains the preferred starting option in net.
Ahead of him, Julián Aude is likely the preferred choice at left back, though Raheem Edwards is a more than competent alternative – the Galaxy may be the one team in the league with real depth at this position – and 21-year-old Brazilian Calegari is the most talented option at right back. In between them? Vanney has options but is likely to play Jalen Neal alongside a veteran presence, either Tony Alfaro, recently arrived from New York City FC, or Maya Yoshida, a free agent signing most recently from Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga. Alfaro, five years younger than Yoshida and already familiar with the league, is a safer bet to start.
In the midfield, Riqui Puig has become the face of the franchise and is a lock at start, as has Mark Delgado. The now-injured Brugman completed the trio, but Edwin Cerillo, recently arrived from FC Dallas, should fill in the spot.
Up top, Dejan Jovelic has been the go-to striker options at striker, particularly since Chicharito was injured, and Douglas Costa seems to be the best option at the right wing (though Michael Barrios, recently arrived from the Colorado Rapids, provides another option). On the left of the attack, the Galaxy brought in Diego Fagúndez from Austin FC and he is likely the best option available.
Out: Javier Casas, Chris Mueller
Suspended: Mauricio Pineda
Here’s the good news: The back injury that had sidelined Chris Brady last week looks to be resolved. Frank Klopas, out with COVID last match, was leading team practices and should be back behind the bench, and Rafael Czichos is back from his one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation.
Here’s the bad news: Mauricio Pineda received his fifth yellow last Sunday and will miss the match, and Carlos Terán also received a booking, making him one card away from suspension.
Still, rotations, particularly with a midweek match coming up, were inevitable, and at least this way, Klopas can have the paradoxical feeling of freedom that can ensue from having your choices made for you.
That rotation might include swapping in Federico Navarro, now seemingly fully recovered from injury, into the defensive midfield, but I somewhat doubt it for this match: Instead, expect Gastón Giménez and Ousmane Doumbia to return to their positions – though if one goes the full 90 minutes on Saturday, don’t be surprised if they start on the bench midweek.
Ahead of him, I’d expect the same trio of Xherdan Shaqiri flanked by Maren Haile-Selassie and Brian Gutiérrez – they simply are the best options the team has in those positions, especially as starters.
At striker, Gorgeous Koutsias had a few shots in the XI, and he frankly has looked like he could still use more time and experience before taking on the role full-time. He might yet get the start – Kei Kamara has appeared in the graphic above numerous times but his most recent time in the XI happened on back July 1st– but Koutsias’s game, at the moment at least, seems to be best utilized when he has fresh legs and the opponent doesn’t.
Fire Keys to Victory
- Welcome the new guys: Five players two-thirds of the way into a season is a lot to be added and some are likely to make their way into the XI for the Galaxy, particularly in the back line and midfield. Despite plenty of time in practice together, they haven’t had a match, preseason or otherwise, to try things out. It’s an opportunity ripe for the picking for the Fire.
- Go the distance: On a similar note, regardless of how teams may preach “practice like you play,” it’s been just shy of a month since the Galaxy had a game. The Fire played one more game in the Leagues Cup and had a game last week – they are likely the fitter team late, and if they maintain pressure through the full 90’, they have a disproportionate chance at late goals – a welcome flip from earlier in the season.
- Play bravely: The Fire have converted an abnormally high number of their chances, but on the flip side, for the possession they’ve had and where they’ve had it, they’ve had an abnormally small number of chances. Being selfish is one thing but having the confidence to take advantage of an opportunity when one appears is another. Going for it is likely to produce more joy than sadness for the team.
This will be a tough one, but with the Western Conference being a points bank this season and with Doumbia gelling, three points could be on the cards.
Prediction: Galaxy 1-2 Fire
I’m writing this at 2AM, but close enough. There’s one thing that LA have done this year and that’s suck. The Fire aren’t much better tho. This is probably their last shot at taking home three points on the road. I’ve been lenient in the past, but I think the verdict is in: The team just don’t got that dawg in em. And unless that changes, they won’t really have anything in em. And the Galaxy sure as hell aren’t showing up either.
Prediction: Galaxy 1-1 Fire
Galaxy became a better team in the transfer window, despite the restrictions placed on them – a testimony to what a competent and motivated MLS GM can do – and it shows that the team isn’t satisfied with missing out on the playoffs. Still, it’s a lot of bits and bobs to be adding late in the season, and “rest” has likely turned to “rust” for the home team. Fire should get a result and thereby avoid making life unnecessarily difficult down the line. Emphasis on “should.”
Prediction: Galaxy 1-2 Fire
Prediction: Galaxy 1-3 Fire
Match Information and How to Watch
Date and Time: Saturday, August 26, 9:30 PM CT
Location: Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, CA
Forecast: 69’F expected at kick off, with 74% humidity, winds W at 6mph, 3% cloud cover and 5% chance of precipitation
TV: Apple TV – MLS Season Pass, TSN (in Canada)
Radio: wlsam.com (English), TUDN 1200 AM (Spanish)