Preseason is in full swing but the LA Galaxy are still a couple of injured players and new signings away from their best version.
The Los Angeles Galaxy are playing soccer again!
It has been a week full of rain and earthquakes in Los Angeles but supporters of the LA Galaxy might not have noticed as they’ve been busy watching their team’s return to action.
The first game that fans could attend was last Saturday, February 2nd at Dignity Health Sports Park. Fans were in the stands as their Galaxy played St. Louis City to a 2-1 loss. Those in attendance and watching the live stream saw their first glimpses of new acquisitions Miki Yamane, John Nelson, John McCarthy, and Tucker Lepley.
The Galaxy played again on Wednesday the seventh against Charlotte FC in the opening fixture of the Coachella Valley Invitational. Unfortunately, the team’s play failed to match the beauty of their surroundings as this game would end in a 3-0 loss for LA.
The Galaxy’s next match is on Sunday, February 11th at 10:00 AM PST against Austin FC. All preseason games will be streaming for free on lagalaxy.com
Greg Vanney has claimed that training has been focused on improving defensively, a worthy endeavor considering the team conceded a club-worst 67 goals last year. This is reflected in their defense-first performances so far.
Although only appearing for short cameos, the Galaxy’s first-team players have looked better at preventing their opponents from getting high-quality looks at their goal. On the left, Miki Yamane is impressing early on with his unique blend of defensive discipline and attacking IQ while showing some silky interplay with his teammates.
To nobody’s surprise, Yamine’s connection with Maya Yoshida is already proving formidable. Together, the pair helped lead Japan as they knocked Spain out of the 2022 World Cup. So far this preseason the duo has locked down the Galaxy’s left-hand side and have hardly allowed any shots when playing together. The praise for Yamane and Yoshida will only grow louder as the season develops and they impose their world-class quality against teams across the MLS.
On the right side, new signing John Nelson is beginning to forge a connection with Diego Fagundez. An experienced player, Nelson has looked great in support of Fagundez, showing an excellent sense of timing with his forward runs without leaving his side vulnerable.
Bolstered by Nelson’s support, Fagundez has been a standout so far this preseason in the attacking third. After moving to LA midseason last year during a complicated moment in his personal life, Fagundez struggled to impress. Having recently settled in Los Angeles, he now has much more freedom to focus on and enjoy his work, and it is reflecting on the pitch.
Fagundez has looked quicker, more incisive, and much more confident in these preseason matches. The Galaxy’s new number seven has far and away been their most dangerous player so far. It already seems his contributions will be hugely important for the team’s success.
The only other player who has also managed to turn heads is UCLA draftee Tucker Lepley. The 22-year-old midfielder has looked seasoned beyond his years during his first appearances for the blue-white-and-gold. He has a deft touch and impressive composure which allows him to effortlessly slide away from pressure, even when squaring up against MLS first-team opponents. It was assumed upon his signing that Lepley would be a G2 player, but his performances may earn him a spot on the first-team roster.
Injured players who have yet to play their first minutes of 2024 include Dejan Joveljic, Martin Cáceres, Daniel Aguirre, Gaston Brugman, and Jalen Neal. During Wednesday’s match against Charlotte Will Kuntz and Joe Tutino revealed that Joveljic could return from the hip contusion he suffered in the closed-door friendly against San Jose Earthquakes as soon as their next game.
After the match, Justin Ruderman spoke with Greg Vanney and found out that Sunday’s game could also see the returns of Martin Cáceres and Daniel Aguirre. Cáceres has been out since last June after having surgery to repair an avulsion fracture on his left knee.
Vanney also told Ruderman that midfielder Gaston Brugman is set to return within the coming week. Recent training photos from the club show Brugman has been training with the ball at his feet again. With a couple more matches remaining in the preseason schedule, Joveljoc, Cáceres, Aguirre, and Brugman will likely be at full speed for the season opener.
Jalen Neal is the player that supporters have been most desperate to see back in action the most. Unfortunately, his recovery from injury related to the sports hernia he picked up last year has been progressing more slowly than anticipated. Ruderman shared that Neal is still being assessed, indicating there are lingering issues for the young American to work through.
While Neal’s situation is unfortunate, many fans are expressing more concern about a player who has not yet signed for the club. Ghanaian winger Joseph Paintsil remains at Genk while the LA Galaxy negotiates with the Belgian club.
Reports that the Galaxy offered to pay Paintsil’s $8.5M release clause were true, but the club and player were unable to agree before the clause expired. Since then, the Galaxy has been working on acquiring Paintsil via a traditional transfer. Sources around Dignity Health Sports Park report quiet confidence among those involved with negotiations, suggesting that talks could have reached an advanced stage.
In a recent interview with Belgian media outlet Het Belan van Limburg news, Joseph Paintsil shared how he has experienced negotiations while competing in the African Cup of Nations. Paintsil admits that he was not concerned with negotiations during the tournament and that his agent continues to converse with both clubs involved.
When asked if he would be open to leaving Genk Paintsil replied, “Yes, but I don’t make the decision until I clearly know where I stand…while there’s a nice offer coming up, I’m having a great time at a club where I’ve been feeling at home for years.”
Despite telling reporters that he has absolutely no qualms with remaining in Limburg, analysts feel as if his play tells a different story.
HBVL’s Stef Wijnants feels as if Genk has a problem in Paintsil. Commenting on his performance in a recent loss to Belgian Pro League leaders Union-Saint Gilloise, Wijnants said, “You can see from everything that he is not well in his own skin. He complains more than ever…and plays himself out of the game… I no longer see his added value at the moment.”
While these may simply be incendiary comments from an external reporter, the fact remains that Genk is still entertaining discussions for Paintsil’s departure. Given the quiet surrounding the Galaxy camp, it may be unwise to bet against Will Kuntz securing his target.
Regardless of what happens with Paintsil, Galaxy fans can look forward to watching a slightly more complete version of their team play against Austin tomorrow. For now, feel free to sit back, relax with your favorite form of football, and trust in the Galaxy’s ability to build a competitive squad.
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PHOTO: LA Galaxy