After clearly setting their priority to catch crosstown rival Los Angeles FC in the Western Conference standings, the Los Angeles Galaxy look to begin narrowing that nine-point deficit Saturday when they face FC Cincinnati.
Los Angeles (9-1-6) has primarily relied on Zlatan Ibrahimovic to keep it afloat in the West, with the former Sweden international accounting for 11 of the team’s 22 goals in league play. Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto did not put much importance on a U.S. Open Cup run for his side during the two-week break for the Gold Cup, and a team consisting of reserves and youngsters were overrun 4-0 at Portland on Wednesday night in the round of 16.
Despite the overturned side, Schelotto was clearly expecting more as the Galaxy never recovered from a three-goal barrage in an eight-minute span that started with an own goal by Galaxy midfielder Perry Kitchen.
“I expect to win that because we saved a lot of players for that game with Cincinnati,” the Galaxy coach said. “But we are talking about the game today and I am a little angry because we need to fight more. We need to have a better attitude. When you are playing for the Galaxy you have to feel the honor to be here.”
Schelotto was able to give Juninho a runout for his first match with the team since re-signing in December. The midfielder was a key part of three MLS Cup-winning teams earlier this decade for Los Angeles and could provide critical depth since Los Angeles will be without key players due to international tournaments.
The two most notable absences are midfielders Uriel Antuna and Jonathan Dos Santos, who are both with Mexico at the Gold Cup. The 19-year-old Antuna, a late add to El Tri as an injury replacement, followed up his early breakthrough with the Galaxy with a hat trick in Mexico’s 7-0 thrashing of Cuba on Sunday.
FC Cincinnati (3-2-11), which has an MLS-low 11 points, suffered the same fate as Los Angeles in U.S. Open Cup play, but its defeat came in crushing fashion as a stoppage-time header by Sam Fink consigned them to a 1-0 loss at USL side St. Louis FC on Wednesday night.
“Disappointing. We could have played more, we could have created more,” interim coach Yoann Damet told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I think, again, playing the first half was a tough one for us. In the second half, we had ups and downs. I think at some points, we controlled the game, and we were very vulnerable on set pieces. Very disappointing.”
FCC finished with just two shots on target while getting outshot 16-10 overall, but their defense remains a work in progress as Wednesday night’s defeat marked their 16th consecutive contest without a clean sheet in all competitions.
In addition to the loss, Damet could be without striker Fanendo Adi for this match as he was forced off in the second half Wednesday night with an undisclosed leg injury. Despite appearing in just eight league matches, Adi is second on the team with 16 shots.
FC Cincinnati is looking to snap a four-match losing streak in MLS play during which it has been outscored 15-4. Its minus-19 goal difference is the worst in the league.
This is the first match between the sides as FC Cincinnati never played Los Angeles in the U.S. Open Cup prior to joining Major League Soccer this season.
(Zlatan Ibrahimovic photo courtesy Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports)