The Hollywood Rematch
By Matt Baker
Originally scheduled for Independence Day, St. Louis CITY SC is now scheduled to be one of only ten teams to play during a coveted and rare international break for MLS teams. While CITYPARK will host the USMNT in a friendly against Uzbekistan, Bradley Carnell and CITY SC will travel West to play a team hungry to make the playoffs and right their own ship, in the LA Galaxy.
Louis is no stranger to the Galaxy though, having drew them 1-1 at CITYPARK on
June 11th. That match came on the heels of a Chicharito season ending ACL
injury sustained 4 days prior and included the return of designated player, Douglas Costa, but featured an otherwise strong Galaxy
side that has also been unbeaten at home since May 27th. A possession based
team who have gone through their own injury issues over the course of the
season, Bradley Carnell still views this team as largely the same,
fundamentally, as the side they played just 3 months ago.
"It's a team who enjoy the ball, who enjoy connecting passes, playing sideways and backwards and then trying to isolate you on one side. I think it's a good team but a great matchup for us. I thought we dominated that game and it's just a pity that we gave up one moment in the game and conceded late on. I thought we had dictated and controlled the game as we wanted to and it's pretty much the same recipe this time around."
This LA Galaxy side however will welcome St. Louis CITY SC with a bit less firepower than they had in their first meeting. Among those out with season ending injuries are forward Chicharito and midfielder Gaston Brugman. Defender Martin Caceres is out for likely another month or two after surgery to repair an avulsion fracture in his left knee. Douglas Costa (shoulder), Jalen Neal (groin), and Lucas Calegari (knee) are all likely to miss the match as well, with Kelvin Leerdam & Erie Zavaleta having been called up by Suriname and El Salvador respectively for this international window.
However, as many names as the Galaxy might be missing, the one name who has been the overwhelming engine to their offense and is fit to play, is Riqui Puig. Puig is the 24 year old Galaxy midfielder, one of their designated players, and who leads their team is just about every key category there is. Leading in assists, shots, shots on target, key passes, pass attempts and pass completions, as well as being their 2nd leading goal scorer, Puig is the most vital piece to their offensive puzzle, and that fact is not lost on St. Louis CITY SC.
"Everything pretty much comes through RIqui. He's difficult to track. He's a good player, he sometimes bounces out as an outside back, between the center backs, he's on the right wing, then left. It's about our positional discipline on the day and not to be too attracted to the man but making sure we shift over, connect and get numbers around the ball. We want to deny the service to Riqui Puig."
One of the key pieces of CITY SC's midfield that will be tasked with not only controlling Rigui Puig but also in driving the offensive attack of CITY, is midfielder and designated player, Edu Löwen. Löwen remembers their last meeting all too well, as it was the match he picked up his quad injury in which caused him to miss a month of action. Löwen recalled many lessons learned from their first matchup that should help as CITY travels to LA.
"They are very good with the ball, good in possession and have a lot of good individual players. As we saw in our own stadium, they broke us down a couple times, even if we pressed well and if there are moments we are not fully committed, they will break us down. We have to be very careful in that, very aggressive, smart and compact like in the last game (vs LA), one time we were caught sleeping and conceded a goal where we had to win it and in the end we sat with one point and were upset about that."
The previous matchup saw both Löwen and his midfield partner Njabulo Blom, pick up first half yellow cards. Against a possession based offense, being overly aggressive and mindful of the impact that early cards can have is something Löwen is taking away from that previous matchup as well.
"I remember I picked up the yellow card because I had to foul because Puig would have been in a good position. We were a bit sloppy at times and in that situation I was a little bit late and had to take the foul. I think we have to be aggressive but have to be smart."
St. Louis looks to have a mostly healthy roster to travel to LA also. Bradley Carnell gave updates on Thursday to numerous players who've picked up knocks over the past week including Tim Parker, Joakim Nilsson, Nicholas Gioacchini, Rasmus Alm and Anthony Markanich.
First the bad, Rasmus Alm is said to still have some discomfort in his lower abdomen, something that Carnell said is an ongoing thing that's plagued him for a few months, which they are monitoring and which kept him out of training on Thursday. For Tim Parker, his lower body injury that took him out at halftime of the Sporting Kansas City match is improving and Carnell said simply "Tim feels good." Niko Gioacchini "took a while to feel comfortable with his shoulder but I think (Wednesday) was his best session." Carnell went on to say "we have three great options whether from the bench or starting, we have some real weapons to go 2 strikers or 1 strikers. On Joakim Nilsson, Carnell said "he took as everyone, the regen days to regen and the training days to train. It's match day -3 -2 and -1 and he's definitely part of those days." Regarding Anthony Markanich, Carnell said he had "a spasm" last week that caused him to exit the SKC match, but that he's trained with the club all week and should be good to go. Lucas Bartlett is currently with CITY2.
St. Louis goes into this match in 1st place in the West with 47 points and a 1-2 record in their last 3 matches while the LA Galaxy are in 13th place in the West with 29 points but a 2-0-1 record in their last 3. While St. Louis looks to cement their hold onto first place, the players know the Galaxy will be hungry to continue their push for the playoffs and a top 9 finish during this home stretch.
"Everybody wants to get to the playoffs. All the teams who everybody thought they weren't going to make it, LA Galaxy has won a lot of games… we own the first spot and we want to defend the first spot. We want to win every single game, we want to get every single point to defend that spot. Not just go to the playoffs but go with confidence and hopefully home advantage.