Sporting KC vs. LA Galaxy
When: Saturday, March 11, 2023 at 7:30 PM CT
Where: Children’s Mercy Park
How to Watch/Stream: Apple MLS Season Pass (subscription required)
Sporting Kansas City finally returns home on March 11 to host the LA Galaxy. Sporting is sitting on one point after a scoreless draw against the Colorado Rapids last weekend. Through two games, Sporting has failed to score and has looked out of sorts on offense. As the guys on Shades of Blue discussed, Willy Agada and Daniel Salloi are lacking service and it shows.
The Galaxy have only played one game so far after inclement weather in southern California forced LAFC and the Galaxy to reschedule their week one El Traffico derby. LA started their season on the road at FC Dallas and were shellacked 3-1. U-22 striker Dejan Joveljic scored the match’s opening goal before Alan Velasco equalized and a second half brace by Jesus Ferreira outpaced the visitors.
Coach Greg Vanney is considered to be one of the better tacticians in the league and rotates his formations based on the selected lineup and the game state. Against FC Dallas, the Galaxy started in a 4-5-1 with Joveljic up top, Riqui Puig in the central midfield, and Raheem Edwards and Kelvin Leerdam at fullback. As LA pushed forward for goals, they shifted to a 3-5-2 with Puig up top next to Joveljic and new acquisition, US International, Tyler Boyd, on the left wing. Designated Player and “star” striker, Chicharito, is injured and will likely miss the match after he was ruled out for two to five weeks on March 1, 2023.
How will Vanney adjust? We’re most certainly going to see Joveljic up top again, likely as a lone striker. I’d expect to see LA start in the 4-5-1 again, overloading the midfield with Puig’s passing ability opening up play to the wingers and Joveljic.
Against FC Dallas, LA controlled 55 percent of the possession and put more shots on target than the Burn. LA’s xG was 1.6 to Dallas’ 1.7, but the Galaxy defense switched off and were torn to shreds by Ferreira’s clever runs.
Designated player, Riqui Puig, is engine that makes everything go for the Galaxy. It’s not often that a 23-year-old from Barcelona transfers to MLS. Often compared to Andres Iniesta, Puig is known for his ability to break lines with his passing. However, he’s not going to play with the bite of a box-to-box player like Roger Espinoza or a defensive midfielder like Diego Chara. The key to neutering LA’s attack is for the Sporting Kansas City midfield to mark Puig out of the game. Shadowing him to make it difficult to find space and pressing him as soon as he gets the ball will prevent him from being able to pick up his head and pick out a pass to put the Sporting KC defense at risk.
Speaking of defense, Sporting conceded two goals in each of the meetings between these teams last year. The first match was playing at Children’s Mercy Park and Sporting took all three points after a 4-2 victory. Sporting KC’s lineup from that night might look awfully similar to the lineup for Saturday. Ben Sweat, Andreu Fontas, Graham Zusi, and John Pulskamp anchored the defense. Remi Walter, Roger Espinoza, and Erik Thommy patrolled the midfield. Daniel Salloi, Willy Agada, and Johnny Russell were the forwards. LA’s goals were scored by Chicharito, one from the run of play and another from the penalty spot.
In the return fixture, Chicharito again scored two, including another penalty kick. The lineup that night featured Kayden Pierre and Logan Ndenbe at fullback. Missing Chicharito will clearly hurt LA’s attack, especially as his movement was able to take advantage of the poor communication between SKC’s back line last season.
The key for Sporting KC will be figuring out how to be dangerous in attack. Through two games, Sporting KC has a shot based xG of 2.1 and a non-shot xG of 2.4. Peter Vermes has to figure out how to get Willy Agada involved in the attack and how to unlock Daniel Salloi. With these two quiet so far, the team has been relying heavily on Erik Thommy to be goal dangerous. Thommy has looked excellent so far to start the season, but not good enough to carry the team by himself.
In addition to Erik Thommy and Remi Walter in midfield, Vermes has to decide who starts in the final spot. Roger Espinoza has been tapped to start the first two matches, but new signing Nemanja Radoja may finally get a chance to play. If not, there’s a strong argument for Felipe Hernandez to start and to use Roger as a subs for 20-30 minutes. However, as noted in Chad’s lineup predictions, it’s most likely going to be Roger starting.
Nemanja Radoja, if healthy and ready to play, might be the key to unlocking Sporting KC’s potential. We’ve documented how crucial a strong defensive midfielder is to Vermes’ system is, with peak Ilie Sanchez making SKC’s offense truly hum. Remi Walter has been strong to start the season, but his best position is further upfield in one of the dueling 8s. Radoja’s ability to break up play and pass at hopefully an elite level will be the key to getting Willy Agada good service and allowing SKC to play on the front foot.
Keeping with the theme of newcomers, LA’s centerback pairing features Chris Mavinga, who signed with LA as a free agent in the offseason. He and Martin Caceres, who joined last August, will be tasked with keeping Willy Agada quiet for a third game in a row. Both Mavinga and Caceres were rated under a six for their performance before Mavinga was substituted in the 2nd half for another centerback, Erik Zavaleta. LA has struggled in defense under Greg Vanney and this is possibly the match were SKC gets right.
So, what do you all think? Predictions for the home opener?