LOS ANGELES – 2014, the year the LA Galaxy lifted their historic fifth MLS Cup, feels like a lifetime ago.
In the half-decade since, Western Conference rivals Portland and Seattle lifted their first league titles. Toronto FC, the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United built historic seasons. A new Black-&-Gold-clad monster appeared and took Los Angeles by storm.
With the appointment of Guillermo Barros Schelotto on the second day of 2019, MLS’s most storied franchise sought to regain its footing in a league that was quickly leaving it behind.
According to some of their recently successful MLS rivals, the change has been an improvement.
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“I think Schelotto’s done a great job from last year to this year coming in and getting them to be more disciplined,” said LAFC defender Steven Beitashour, whose side will face the Galaxy on Friday in the first El Trafico meeting of the year (10 pm ET | ESPN, TSN2 — Full TV & streaming info) . “I think they’re a little bit more organized.”
After conceding 1.88 goals per game last season, including three goals at home in a disastrous Decision Day capitulation that saw the Galaxy miss out on the playoffs for the second straight season, the Argentine coach has brought some stability to the team, allowing just 1.25 goals per match so far in 2019.
But it’s not just the defensive side of his opponents — who sit in third place in the Western Conference at present — that LAFC boss Bob Bradley has been impressed by.
“I think this year, their midfield is much better,” Bradley told MLSsoccer.com Monday. “Jonathan dos Santos has had a very good season, Joe Corona adds something, but I think there is more play through the midfield, and that part in the team has made them better.”
With Corona just one of several new players on their books, the roster is being remade in Schelotto’s image, with another recent appointee, general manager Dennis te Kloese, bringing in many of the new faces.
But as much as things have changed at the Galaxy, their rivals are quick to point out that they aren’t the only team in Friday’s match that’s improving.
“They’re a much different team than last year, but so are we,” said Beitashour. “We’re a much different team, not necessarily personnel-wise, but I think guys have developed, have grown up, guys have bought into Bob’s system and you can just see the way we play football. Just the simplest things with the midfielders, rotations, the way they receive the ball and open up, it’s all the little things that it took time to adjust to.”
Bradley agreed with his veteran defender’s assessment. He feels confident about how the LAFC juggernaut he’s helped bring to life — the one that’s dominated the league thus far in 2019, building to a commanding lead atop the Supporters’ Shield standings — will look to assert their supremacy at the home of the team that had been dominant in the region for so long before their arrival.
“We’ve grown,” said Bradley. “We’re confident in our football, we’re confident in our ability to step on the field in every game and try to create chances and find ways to push up the field and win the ball back. So the ideas and the way we want to play are that much further, we’ve been tested that many more times, so that’s where the confidence comes from.”