Atlanta United (12-8-7) will host L.A. Galaxy &-15-6) on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Five Stripes are in fifth in the Eastern Conference. L.A. is in 10th in the West.
The teams are in very different places. Atlanta United has one one loss in 11 games. The Galaxy have one win its past 13 games.
Kevin Baxter writes about baseball, soccer and anything else he can get a press pass for at the Los Angeles Times answered three questions about the Galaxy ahead of Wednesday’s game. He has covered three Summer Olympics, two Pan American Games, three World Cups, a Super Bowl and six World Series. An essay he wrote in the fifth grade was voted best in the class. He has a cool dog named Chicharita -- yes, after him.
Q: Please quickly summarize why L.A. has struggled so much this season and why.
A: The Galaxy decided to move away from a big-name, DP-centric roster this season and build through a variety of means: less-expensive DPs, TAM-money players and, especially, by using homegrown players and players from their academy. So Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard are gone, replaced by Romain Alessandrini (approx $1.9 million a year) and Jonathan dos Santos (signed in July for about $2 million a season). Players like A.J. DeLaGarza, Mike Magee, Jeff Larentowicz, Alan Gordon and Landon Donovan were either traded or not resigned, replaced, in part, by players like Bradley Diallo, Nathan Smith, Raul Mendiola and Jaime Villarreal. The dropoff in experience was great. But what really upset the Galaxy's blueprint for this season were injuries, starting before the season even began. Ashley Cole, Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Rogers were unavailable for the first 3 weeks and it got worse from there. Sebastian Lletget played just three games. Jermaine Jones and Baggio Husidic have each missed a huge portion of the season. Goalkeeper Brian Rowe was injured twice and wound up losing his starting job. Rogers hasn't played all season and at one point in early July the Galaxy went into a game with just five players on the bench because they were missing 12(!) men to either injury or suspension. The front office never expected the young players to get so much meaningful playing time but, in fact, nearly 40% of the Galaxy's minutes this season have gone to either homegrown players or academy players.
Even under the best of circumstances, however, this was a poorly constructed roster with pieces that don't fit. Zardes has played as a lone striker for most of the season, for example, and that's a role he's not suited for. There is no depth at outside back but the team has had as many as 4-5 center backs on its roster. In the midfield, there are several players who can play on the wing but little depth in central midfield. Also, management denies there was any cost-cutting involved but the decision not resign Keane and Gerrard saved the team $10 million alone and the payroll is much, much lower than last year's. Sometimes you get what you paid for.
Q: What is the key matchup in Wednesday's game?
A: I don't know if there's a key one-on-one matchup. Certainly Michael Ciani, the team's newest center back, will have to play better than he did against Toronto in his MLS debut. It will be interesting to see if Sigi Schmid stays with the 3-5-2 he used against Toronto since it got burned for four goals. What I'm going to be looking for is the team's reaction to Sigi's postgame talk Saturday in which he laid into players for the poor performance and warned everyone that they are now playing for the jobs and several of them won't be back next year.
Q: Has the addition of the Dos Santos brothers raised the team's profile in Southern California?
A: Not really. The signing of Gio dos Santos was something the team had been working on for years and was something former AEG CEO Tim Leiweke thought would help make the Galaxy LA's favorite team among Mexican-Americans. It worked initially but not long-term. The Mexican fans stayed home to watch Liga MX and now with LAFC building a downtown stadium and signing Carlos Vela, the new team has begun making inroads with the fan base the Galaxy had hoped to corner.
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