CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy's chief aim this season, after missing out on the past two versions of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, was to fight their way into the postseason. After that success, what comes next?
“It's like when you're going to the party,” head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto put it last week. “Now we're going to dance.”
The Galaxy, brilliant at their best but woefully inconsistent, believe they have a real shot at a sixth MLS Cup championship, but that will require them to be their best, starting with Sunday's Round One clash (8:30 pm ET | ESPN, TVAS, TSN4) at Minnesota United.
It won't be easy. The Loons, who surrendered 141 goals and lost 38 games in their first two seasons, are a much-improved side since Allianz Field opened. They've got a dynamic attack led by Colombian maestro Darwin Quintero and are strong at the back with Defender of the Year candidate Ike Opara, Goalkeeper of the Year finalist Vito Mannone and veteran holding midfielder Ozzie Alonso.
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“I think they've finally invested in their team, I guess,” goalkeeper David Bingham said. “They know what they did the first two years didn't work and then invested a lot of money in the spine of their team and pretty much changed the culture of the team around.
“They're good defensively and they've got a couple of players up top that can hit you quick. So when you're attacking, you've definitely got to keep your eye on those guys.”
Quintero, who leads Minnesota United with 10 goals and five assists, is the string-puller. LA know they must be aware of him at every moment.
“He's very talented,” said Schelotto. “He can make a goal where you [think], 'What happened?' He can do that because he's very talented, he [can do] things with the ball that other people can't do that.”
“For me, it's [all about] Quintero,” he said. “He's a special guy. He just needs a bit of space and he's dangerous. He's the big one. And then he's running off their big man up top [Mason Toye], so it's a good duo, and you definitely have to keep your eye on them.”
There’s danger on the other end, too, led by Opara, the 2019 MLS Defender of the Year. Opara is often paired with Michael Boxall, a New Zealand international, and won the same award in 2017 while playing with Sporting Kansas City.
“I think you can thank their whole defensive resurgence to Ike,” Bingham said. “There's not getting around that ... and thinking that anyone else has a bigger effect on that defense is silly. And when Ike comes up for corner kicks and set pieces for them, he's a big target, a big boy, and he does well.”
The game's key battle could be Opara against Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored 30 goals this season. The Galaxy are confident that the matchup favors their Swedish striker.
“I'll take Zlatan, but it's going to be a good battle,” said LA center back Daniel Steres. "It will be interesting to see.”
A victory would give the Galaxy an Oct. 24 showdown in the Western Conference semifinals with crosstown rival and Supporters’ Shield winners LAFC. That El Trafico possibility is in the back of their minds and they want to keep it there – at least for now.
“That's the game we want. That's the game everybody wants,” defender David Romney said. “I'd be super excited for it, but we've got to focus on Minnesota first."