Ahead of Sunday’s road game against Los Angeles Galaxy, we asked Alicia Rodriguez (@soccermusings) of SB Nation sister site LAG Confidential a few questions about a Western Conference foe the New York Red Bulls haven’t seen in quite a while.
The Galaxy went out and got a proven MLS manager in Greg Vanney this offseason. What has he changed about the team so far and what are the expectations for his first season at one of the league’s biggest clubs?
Ever since Bruce Arena left, the Galaxy have been casting about to regain their identity, frankly. Their issues are not entirely down to coaching, but it’s been a big old miss the last five years on that front. I think they made the right choice and got the best man for this particular position in Vanney. He orchestrated an even bigger turnaround with Toronto FC and he’s got a proven track record of winning as a coach in MLS, and recently. He’s also a former player for the Galaxy and he clearly has genuine affection for the club and wants it to succeed.
In terms of what he’s changed, we saw a glimpse of it in the season opener, when the Galaxy fell into their old habit of playing slow as mud in the 1st half and flinging a series of crosses to nowhere. Vanney, who was fantastic at making in-game adjustments with TFC, did that in the 2nd half and transformed the game.
I think the minimum expectation is for the Galaxy to be relevant again on the field. A playoff berth is the absolute minimum, but honestly, the roster they had last year underachieved badly. They’ve made some much-needed upgrades, but they also need the big stars on the roster to perform, and if they are a comfortable playoff team that can make a run in the postseason, it should be considered a good first season under Vanney.
Chicharito had a positive start to his second MLS season with two goals against Miami last weekend. Does anything about his deployment or fitness in particular have him set for a better 2021 campaign? How much will the Galaxy be relying on him to have a better season?
Last season was a wash for Chicharito between personal issues, injuries, lack of chemistry and a lack of form. In the pandemic hell year of 2020 he probably deserves a much bigger pass than he’s gotten. But credit to him, he really seems to have taken a rough year to heart and redoubled his efforts to improve this year, changing his diet, hiring a personal staff of people to coach him in various life ways and getting into shape. The results were clear, and I think unlike 2020 coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Vanney actually saw the way the team was playing was not suited to Chicharito and you know, changed things to help. It’s a good first step and I think Chicharito is on a mission to prove himself this season. Given the Galaxy lost their top scorer from last year, Cristian Pavón, Chicharito will be counted on to contribute probably at least 15 goals and if he can do that, the team is probably hitting their stride.
If the Galaxy keep the Red Bulls winless on Sunday, how will they do it? Which players will have the biggest impact and what has to go right for LA to perform at its best?
I’m really intrigued to see the Red Bulls’ press come up against the Galaxy’s sometimes-ponderous back six. There are other teams in MLS that press nowadays, but I don’t think the others play quite like New York, and a concern in the season opener was the veterans falling into the habit of slowing the game down to the extent that they played themselves out of it for a while. If that happens again and they don’t adjust in time, the Red Bulls could capitalize.
As I mentioned, though, there’s a mix of new faces and old, young players and grizzled veterans and I think Vanney’s ability to tweak things has proven valuable in MLS over the years, and I think he’s the key man until we see the players take ownership in games for this team. I think the starting XI will stay mostly the same, perhaps a change or two, and I think this team will be well-drilled heading into the game to pick up the pace, hold the ball and make meaningful chances. If they can do that, then LA have a winning formula, but we’ll see what happens.