With the LA Galaxy visiting Allianz Field for Minnesota United’s first-ever playoff game, tonight’s Round One matchup promises to be special. Although the LA Galaxy boast one of the highest scoring offenses in MLS, led by the 2019 Golden Boot runner-up Zlatan Ibrahimovic, its defense has struggled to keep goals out and hold clean sheets this season – especially on the road. The Loons will be roared on by a sold-out Allianz Field crowd as they look to shut down the formidable Ibrahimovic and create chaos going forward. Awaiting the winner of tonight’s game through a Round One bye is LAFC, who have yet to defeat either Minnesota United or the Galaxy in 2019 MLS play. Whatever happens, tonight’s 90 minutes present a plethora of storylines.
“Offense wins games but defense wins championships” is a phrase that’s been used to describe many top-heavy offensive teams angling for postseason glory. While statistics prove that the LA Galaxy are absolutely an offensive juggernaut, its defense has raised red flags throughout the 2019 MLS Season. The Galaxy have scored 58 goals this season – tied for the third highest total in MLS – but they have conceded a whopping 59 goals. This makes the Galaxy the only team in this year’s MLS Cup Playoffs to hold a negative goal differential. To make matters worse, the Galaxy have conceded 38 of their 58 goals on the road this season – or over 64% of all goals conceded. Allowing goals in bunches on the road never bodes well for a team and the Galaxy are 1-1-8 in their last 10 away games. But in a win-or-go-home situation, look for LA to do their best to push past their road struggles tonight.
While the Galaxy have shown their share of vulnerabilities at the back, their superstar-filled attack has helped to grab results in overwhelming fashion, with none more notable than LA Galaxy’s 7-2 rout of Sporting KC. Scoring a hat trick in that game was Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has been on fire in 2019 especially when the Galaxy’s playoff chances began to dwindle. In their last 10 games in MLS play, the Galaxy have scored 27 goals (2.7 goals per game). Unsurprisingly of those 27 goals, 14 of them – over 50% – were scored by Ibrahimovic. In that same stretch of 10 games, Ibrahimovic has put his name on the scoresheet at least once nine different times. The Swedish forward, however, has yet to tally against Minnesota United this season and 2019 Defender of the Year Ike Opara will likely be tasked with keeping it that way. With neither known to shy away from an offensive or defensive challenge, a key matchup to look for will be between Opara and Ibrahimovic as both try to will their sides to the Western Conference Semifinals.
LAFC Wait in the Wings
As to be expected, both teams’ sole focus will be on the prospect of winning tonight, but followers of MNUFC and the LA Galaxy will be aware of the waiting one-seeded LAFC. The 2019 Supporters’ Shield holders locked down the #1 seed in the Western Conference after Minnesota United fell 2-0 on the road against the Houston Dynamo on September 11. With MLS’ new playoff format, the one seed has become extremely valuable as it gives whatever team finishes atop their conference a first round bye. While LAFC will be fresh from two and a half weeks off, the Black and Gold may feel uneasy about either of their potential opponents. LAFC have yet to beat the Loons or the Galaxy, either at home and on the road this season. Both times the Galaxy and LAFC met in El Tráfico this season, two fast-paced, high-scoring soccer games ensued, both ending in a 3-3 draw. MNUFC fans will recall its 2-0 shock win on the road against the Black & Gold in which a Mason Toye brace sunk LAFC at the Banc of California Stadium for the first time in 2019 MLS play. While Los Angeles Football Club took a point from Minnesota United in a 1-1 draw at Allianz Field, the Loons once again proved they can go toe-to-toe with the best team in the league.