The Columbus Crew enters the team’s busiest stretch of 2023 so far in its worst form of the campaign. Winless in their last four MLS matches, the Black & Gold have struggled to get the needed results despite being “the better team” in most of their recent games.
In the team’s most recent match against Orlando City, for example, Columbus had the majority of the possession by a wide margin, created more goal scoring chances and had an Expected Goals differential of +2.19. Despite this, the Crew conceded twice in the second half to draw 2-2, a reminder of last year’s inability to protect leads.
Because of the recent slide, this next week is a crucial one for the Crew. With the LA Galaxy coming to town on Wednesday night before the Hell is Real Derby on Saturday and a U.S. Open Cup tie next Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, the Black & Gold need to get back to winning ways and do so quickly.
Wednesday night’s test against LA will be a big one for Columbus and is a great chance for the Crew to get on the right track before traveling to Cincinnati. The Galaxy has had the team’s own struggles in 2023 and is also dealing with heavy match congestion. Due to this, there’s every chance that LA won’t play all of the team’s big-name players in this matchup.
Here’s what to expect from each side and how the Black & Gold can take all three points from a big midweek MLS match.
LA Galaxy at a glance
League Form: W-L-L-W-L
Record: 2-3-6 (9 Points)
Leading Scorer: Dejan Jovelic (2 goals)
Assist Leader: Gaston Brugman, Marco Delgado, Dejan Jovelic, Memo Rodriguez, Kelvin Leerdam, Javier Hernandez (1 assist)
Player to watch: Ricard Puig & Gastón Brugman
Given the schedule, it’s hard to predict who LA will have available Wednesday in Columbus. Despite this, it would not be shocking if neither of these players played on Wednesday.
Both Puig and Brugman have had great starts to their 2023 campaigns. Both play in central midfield, Brugman and Puig are the proverbial heartbeat of this Galaxy team. Brugman is essential to LA’s ability to circulate the ball side to side and keep possession, while Puig often acts as the key to unlock opposing defenses. Both are excellent passers of the ball and have the ability to pick out passes that can make opposing defenses very uncomfortable.
It’s worth noting that Puig doesn’t work nearly as hard defensively as Brugman, so it may be more likely that the Crew sees Brugman on Wednesday. Regardless, the Black & Gold midfield will have a tough task dealing with either, or both, of these midfielders.
How the LA Galaxy plays
Crew fans will be familiar with head coach Greg Vanney’s playing style thanks to his tenure with Toronto FC. The success from Toronto, however, hasn’t quite transferred over to LA.
Despite this, Vanney has continued to stick to his principles so far in 2023. Despite changing formations a few times so far this year, the Galaxy has employed the same style of play and tactics in every match.
Firstly, it should be mentioned that LA almost always plays in a four-defender system. Whether it is a 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1 or another variation, Vanney’s teams always have four defenders on the field. In the most recent matches, the Galaxy have played in a 4-4-2 formation. While that could change due to player rotation, expect Vanney to stick with that formation in Columbus.
No matter what formation LA employs, the Galaxy will stick to the team’s principles of play in and out of possession. With the ball, LA looks to maintain possession and push the outside backs up into the attack to create wide overloads. The Galaxy try to swing the ball from side to side and create gaps in the opponent’s defense and exploit the space created. When out of possession, LA defends in a mid-to-low block and tries and stay very compact in defense. This is especially noteworthy as there is every chance the Galaxy look to defend close to the goal to stifle the Crew, who have struggled to break down low-block defenses so far in 2023.
This, coupled with fixture congestion and likely player rotation could mean that LA will be content to defend and look to counterattack on Wednesday.
How the Crew can win:
The Crew looks to get back to winning ways and build some positive momentum heading into the Hell is Real Derby Saturday. Here are three keys to the match for the Black & Gold to take all three points.
Defend the Counter: Columbus has struggled all year defending the counter attack and it could play a major part in this matchup. There will at least be parts, if not the whole match, where LA looks to defend deep and spring the counter. The Crew will need to deal with this effectively. Look for the Blackk & Gold to be effective with counter-pressing in order to defend the counter and pin LA in the team’s own half.
Beat the Block: The Crew spent a large part of the team’s recent break working on breaking down a low block. The Black & Gold may need to do so tonight in order to beat the Galaxy. If Columbus is able to threaten when facing a low block, it will force LA to come out of that block, opening up space for the Crew to attack in behind.
No Cheap Goals: The Black & Gold have a bad habit of giving up cheap goals. Look no further than Orlando’s goals last week. The Columbus defense needs to be better about forcing opponents to beat them with quality, instead of opening the door for their opponents to capitalize. There aren’t any teams the Crew can afford to do this with, least of all the Galaxy..