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Oppo Research: 5 Things about LA Galaxy

Josh Guesman of Corner of the Galaxy tells us why the signings of Gabriel Pec and Joseph Paintsil improved the team, why LA players are such good passers, and why Dejan Joveljić scores so many goals.

Dejan Joveljić is hyped up | Courtesy of LA Galaxy

In this edition of Oppo Research, Hudson River Blue spoke with Josh Guesman of Corner of the Galaxy to learn more about LA Galaxy, New York City FC's opponent on Wednesday night. Here is your NYCFC vs LA Galaxy preview.

1. DP signings making a difference

Hudson River Blue: After finishing second-to-last in the Western Conference last season, LA Galaxy turned things around this year and now sit third in the Western Conference, with eight wins. What led to the team’s quick turnaround?

Josh Guesman: The Galaxy weren’t actually as bad as the record showed last year. A massive amount of season-ending injuries and a start of the season that saw fans boycotting and an embattled president heaping more pressure on the team in order to save his job poisoned the season.

But when they were healthy, and after the boycott, they had a stretch of five or six games where it all came together. Then more injuries and the season collapsed. But credit to Will Kuntz for going out and getting impactful Designated Players Gabriel Pec and Joseph Paintsil, and keep Riqui Puig at the center of a system that allows Puig to take over when he wants. This team feels confident because of the smart moves the Galaxy made in the offseason. 

2. LA Galaxy passes accurately and effectively

HRB: LA Galaxy have the second-best team passing accuracy in the league, completing 87.5 of their passes this season. Riqui Puig is a main contributor to this, averaging a league-best 83.9 accurate passes per 90. How has he and the rest of the team been able to pass effectively and consistently?

JG: I’d consider the passing numbers reflective of two things. One, Greg Vanney’s system is about control and movement. And when setting up those moves, the team works the ball around from side to side to create the overloads and space. Part of their strategy is to make the smart little passes as they wait for space to open. So there are a plethora of opportunities available to Galaxy players at every move.

Two, Riqui Puig’s ability to maintain possession and then pass out of the situations is why they rack up so many passes. The offense moves through him, and he’s the guy who will string together 20 or 30 small passes before making the impossible pass that have much lower probabilities of being completed. With the amount of passes the Galaxy make, there is room for the occasional errant pass. It’s a volume thing.

3. Dejan Joveljić is clinical

HRB: Striker Dejan Joveljić leads LA Galaxy with 10 goals in 16 appearances. He contributed to LA’s average of 1.9 goals per match, the third-best in the league. How has the team been able to attack effectively around him and others?

JG: This is mainly due to the off-season additions of Pec and Paintsil. The idea was to find capable wingers who were goal dangerous but also capable of crossing in a good ball. In essence, Vanney and Kuntz just asked Joveljic to be an average striker.

With Paintsil and Pec able to beat players one-v-one or run away from them on the wing, Joveljic is put in successful positions to score. He’s also been very good at mopping up chances that Pec or Paintsil try and finish but get saved. The old adage is “Right place at the right time.” When Joveljic is healthy, he is exactly that guy. But it’s also about spreading out the scoring for LA. There is not one main target. There are many. Joveljic has 13 goal contributions (10G, 3A), Puig has 14 goal contributions (6G, 8A), Paintsil 10 goal contributions (5G, 5A), and Pec has 11 goal contributions (5G, 6A).

Dejan Joveljić poacher's goal against Sporting Kansas City

4. The X-Factor: Diego Fagúndez, Miki Yamane

HRB: What's the X-factor that could decide this game?

JG: Two guys could decide this game. Diego Fagundez and Miki Yamane. Both are being called upon with Riqui Puig likely missing the Wednesday night match. Fagundez will try and match Puig’s role of playing within the Vanney system to deliver timely balls into space and into dangerous areas from the 10 spot.

But Yamane will be asked to join the midfield and help progress the play as well. He’ll tuck in from his right-back role and take up a position that’s more central in some cases. Or higher up the field and shaded into the middle right. From there he can distribute or play combinations that create overloads and scoring chances. See the Galaxy’s 3rd goal on Saturday night. A big switch from Yamane allows the Galaxy to break with speed. Either way, the Galaxy have to work together as a team to make up for Puig’s likely absence. 

5. Predicted score, Starting XI

HRB: Prediction time: Starting XI? Final score?

JG: Final score: 2-2