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MLS Team Guide: LA Galaxy

Monday, April 12, 2021

Ahead of the 2021 MLS season, Richard Fleming introduces us to the teams set to face the Colorado Rapids. They will face LA Galaxy twice in the regular season, bringing together former teammates, coaching colleagues, and long-time friends Robin Fraser and Greg Vanney. 

First season in MLS: 1996
Honors: MLS Cup winners (2002, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2014), Supporters’ Shield winners (1998, 2002, 2010, 2011), U.S. Open Cup winners (2001, 2005), CONCACAF Champions’ Cup winners (2000)

Stadium: Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, California
Head Coach: Greg Vanney (appointed January 4, 2021)

History with the Rapids
The Rapids and LA Galaxy have met 77 times in the regular season, more than either side has met any other team in Major League Soccer.

The early years were dominated by the Galaxy. In the first 13 encounters, the Rapids managed just two wins in regulation time (they also won once via the now defunct shootout experiment).

Such was the Galaxy’s dominance, they won seven straight games between 1997 and 1999 (including a shootout win). In 1998, the year they first lifted the Supporters’ Shield, the Galaxy scored 16 goals in their four wins. Among these was a 6-1 win at Mile High Stadium and a 7-4 success at the Rose Bowl – which remains the most goals scored in a game in MLS. Cobi Jones netted a hat-trick in both those high-scoring contests.

By the mid-2000’s, there was a greater balance between the two sides, certainly in terms of single games. In an 11-game span, from 2005-2008, the Rapids won eight of them. In all eight wins, they managed to keep the Galaxy off the scoreboard.

It was during this time that the club’s record goalscorer, Conor Casey, struck the first of his 71 MLS goals and the first of his 50 for the Rapids. The date was August 26, 2007 – the first season playing at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park – and Casey opened the scoring in a 3-0 home win.

The second of Casey’s three hat-tricks would come at the Galaxy, on April 4, 2009. He converted the first of his three goals that day after just 16 seconds, which remained the fastest strike in club history until Deshorn Brown scored after just 14 seconds against Seattle in October 2013.

Over the course of the last three seasons, the Rapids have held the upper hand, going unbeaten against the Galaxy in five meetings (4-0-1), with two of the wins coming in Carson, California.

As well as playing 77 times in the regular season, the Rapids and Galaxy have faced each other in five postseason series. They met in the 2005 Western Conference Championship game, which the Galaxy won 2-0 on their way to lifting MLS Cup for a second time.

And, of course, they met more recently in 2016 in the Western Conference semifinals, with a glorious goal from Shkelzen Gashi and shootout heroics from Tim Howard, as the Rapids claimed a famous victory.

Head-to-head record: 29-37-11
Last meeting: W 2-0, 9/19/20 at ROKiT Field - Dignity Health Sports Park

2020 Season
The Galaxy have missed the playoffs in three of the last four years. They had only missed the playoffs three times during the first 21 years of their existence. The LA Galaxy owners sacked head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto at the end of October, with three games remaining. Dominic Kinnear took over temporary charge but could lift them no higher than a 10th place finish (out of 12 teams).

In simple terms, the five-time MLS Cup winners scored too few and conceded too many. Only San Jose Earthquakes (51) gave up more goals than the Galaxy (46) in all of MLS. The Galaxy were also the second lowest scoring side in the Western Conference, despite having a squad containing Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, Cristian Pavon and Sebastian Lletget.

Chicharito desperately underperformed. In 12 games (seven starts), the former Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Bayer Leverkusen striker produced just two goals.

Their season started badly. They went the first five games without a win, which involved a thumping 6-2 loss to LAFC at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando.

When MLS resumed for a second time in August, it appeared a different Galaxy had materialized. They won four in a row, the highlights being two triumphs against LAFC, and then tied 0-0 at San Jose Earthquakes.

That brought them to a home game with the Rapids on September 19. The Galaxy were on a roll but were defeated 2-0, a result which now appears the catalyst for their failure to reach the playoffs. This reversal was the first of six in a row, and eight defeats in nine.

It would signal the end of Schelotto and a realistic end to their postseason dreams.

Offseason Highlights
Schelotto departed in October, and Greg Vanney was appointed in early January. A former Galaxy and – briefly – Rapids player, Vanney is clearly the key offseason acquisition.

He stepped down as head coach of Toronto FC at the start of December, and it did not take long for the rumor-mill to link him with the opening at the Galaxy.

Prior to Vanney’s arrival, they had already lost Joe Corona in the Expansion Draft (he was taken by Austin but eventually landed in Houston), while defender Rolf Feltscher moved to the second tier in Germany.

Since Vanney took over there has been a steady stream of new names, notably in the defensive unit – a clear area of weakness in 2020.

But, the one name they thought would be returning and now appears unlikely is their leading scorer from 2020, Cristian Pavon. His 10 goals made up more than a third of the team’s total. He was on loan from Boca Juniors of Argentina and a third season at the Galaxy at this stage seems unlikely.

Goalkeeper David Bingham’s time appears up. Backup in 2020, Jonathan Klinsmann, was handed a new deal in January, just two days after the club announced the signing of Jonathan Bond from West Bromwich Albion.

Jorge Villafaña joined from the Portland Timbers. His career began at Chivas USA in 2007. A senior US international, he also spent a couple of years at Liga MX side Santos Laguna.

Vanney brought in a player he knew from his time at Toronto in midfielder Victor Vazquez. The midfielder had 16 goals and 25 assists in two seasons with TFC from 2017-18 but after time in Qatar and Belgium had been without a club since October before reuniting with Vanney in mid-March.

Two new wingers will wear Galaxy colors in 2021. Samuel Grandsir arrives from AS Monaco, while only last week Kévin Cabral (pictured) joined as a Young Designated Player from another French club, Valenciennes FC, with the fee reported to be in excess of five million dollars.

Allocation money was used to bring in defender Derrick Williams from English side Blackburn Rovers, with other new additions including Oniel Fisher (free agent) and midfielder Carlos Harvey from Panamanian club Tauro FC. Harvey previously featured for LA Galaxy II, on loan from Tauro FC.

Players To Watch
Jonathan Bond: in recent years the LA Galaxy has been top-heavy. They have stacked their attacking roles with highly paid superstars but the balance of their squad has been found wanting. It is often said that defense wins championships which may be why the Galaxy has been unable to add to their bulging trophy cabinet since 2014. Prior to 2017 they had given up more than 50 goals just once. They have done so three times in the last four years, including a record-setting 67 goals against in 2017 and then 64 in 2018. Will the arrival of Bond help restore some defensive solidity? David Bingham has not been the answer. Defensive pieces have been added in front of Bond, who floated around various English clubs on loan from the likes of Watford and West Brom.

Kévin Cabral: the youngest Designated Player in Galaxy history, this 21-year-old winger lands with quite the price tag, if reports are to be believed. He emerged from the Paris St. Germain academy to join French second division side Valenciennes FC in 2017. A tricky, wiry winger who is good with both feet, and has speed.

Javier Hernandez: Vanney believes Vazquez will help Chicharito in his second season with the Galaxy, after what was a terribly disappointing debut campaign in MLS, albeit one disrupted by the global pandemic. Without Pavon, the spotlight is brighter than ever for Chicharito. He has pledged to repay the faith shown in him by the club and they will be clearly confident of more than the two goals managed in 2020.

In: Jonathan Bond (West Bromwich Albion, England), Kevin Cabral (Valenciennes FC, France), Marcus Ferkranus (LA Galaxy II/homegrown), Oniel Fisher (free agent), Samuel Grandsir (AS Monaco, France), Carlos Harvey (Tauro FC, Panama), Jonathan Klinsmann (re-signed), Jalen Neal (LA Galaxy II), Adam Saldana (LA Galaxy II), Victor Vazquez (unattached), Jorge Villafaña (Portland Timbers), Derrick Williams (Blackburn Rovers, England)

Out: David Bingham, Joe Corona (Houston Dynamo FC), Emil Cuello (San Antonio FC), Rolf Feltscher (FC Wurzburger Kickers, Germany), Yony Gonzalez (Ceará, Colombia), Emiliano Insua (Aldosivi, Argentina), Perry Kitchen (Columbus Crew SC), Cristian Pavon (Boca Juniors, Argentina – loan expired), Gordon Wild (Indy Eleven)

Meetings in 2021:
August 17 (away)
September 11 (home)

Click HERE for the full Rapids schedule.

Did You Know?
When the Galaxy first faced the Rapids – at the Rose Bowl on June 26, 1996 – they had both Greg Vanney and Robin Fraser in their starting lineup.

In that first meeting, Eduardo Hurtado scored all three goals for the Galaxy in a 3-1 win (Shaun Bartlett had opened the scoring for the Rapids). This was the fourth hat-trick in league history. The third hat-trick was also scored by Hurtado, 15 days earlier. It was also the second hat-trick to be scored against the Rapids. Giovanni Savarese bagged three for the Metrostars, just a day after Steve Rammel had scored the league’s first hat-trick.