The Portland Timbers head down to southern California tomorrow to take on the Los Angeles Galaxy, the 2011 and 2012 MLS Cup winners. But this year's LA Galaxy is a bit different from what we're used to seeing, primarily due to the absence of David Beckham. So just how is this Galaxy side coping with the loss of their superstar and the transition to a new season? I spoke with Josie Becker of SB Nation's LA Galaxy blog LAG Confidential to find out:
The LA Galaxy have been undergoing some stark changes this season. The absence of Beckham, and Landon Donovan's off season plans highlight the issues. Can you help Portland fans understand a bit more what's been happening with the LA Galaxy at large during this transitional period? Why are they perhaps not the World Beaters they were in years' past?
The loss of Beckham significantly changed everything, because Beckham did so much in the central midfield. LA had to replace Beckham the free kick taker, Beckham the crosser, Beckham the corner kick taker, and Beckham the holder of possession in the central midfield. Since no team has a player that talented sitting on the bench, the Galaxy have had to distribute Beckham's roles amongst several players. Juninho has taken over free kicks, and Marcelo Sarvas has become an enforcer in the middle of the pitch leading MLS in fouls but also in the top ten on assists.
Juninho held the fort on corner kicks until Landon Donovan returned, but Donovan's sabbatical was ill timed. Corner kicks stopped being a weapon for the Galaxy over that first month. Crossing still isn't a weapon for the Galaxy, it's the main reason the Galaxy went after Robbie Rogers.
So when pieces are missing, not only is that player gone, but the part of Beckham's game they had to take on is gone as well. With Sarvas suspended for Wednesday's match, expect the central midfield to be a bit softer.
How has Landon Donovan been performing lately? Obviously his absence on the USMNT for the World Cup Qualifiers has been a bit of a head scratcher for many USA fans. Do you think he's able to perform at that level again?
Landon Donovan will be fine. It's clear he misses Robbie Keane, but he's had a few breakout matches and is close to finding that consistent form. He'll get called up for the Gold Cup, and with a chance at the Confederations Cup on the line it'll be more than pride to play for. He says every week how he's starting to feel like a kid again, that he's playing because he wants to again. Nothing like a stint on the national team to really get those juices flowing. Then he's right back into the squad for the playoff push.
LA hasn't played a game in almost two weeks, coming off a 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake. How does the team recover from this? Does the loss of Marcelo Sarvas (disciplinary) create a big problem in the midfield for the team?
The loss of Sarvas cannot be overstated. He's been better than Juninho this year. What I'm most interested to see is if Arena stays with his formation change. He went with a 4-3-3 against Real Salt Lake, and it was the first time all year I've seen LA dominated in the possession category. Correlation of course isn't causation and there a bunch of squads out there passing well and keeping possession with a 4-3-3. I think it plays to LA's current strength, which is depth a forward. It's young depth, but since injuries and absences began blind adherence to the 4-4-2 has seen players not up to the first team standard having to rack minutes. Robbie Rogers, Marcelo Sarvas, Juninho with Michael Stephens for depth makes me feel better than Hector Jimenez having to go seventy minutes.
What's one or two impact players for LA that most Portland fans might not know or heard of from previous years?
The young forwards have been getting their name out there, but it's possible some folk might not know Gyasi Zardes yet. He was a Homegrown signing circumventing the MLS SuperDraft, and on draft day he told media that he was going to be something to watch. He then got injured pre-season and has had some of that momentum taken out of his sails. With Jose Villarreal off on international duty and Jack McBean recovering from injury, it's Zardes' show for the next few matches. He's quick in the box, though finishing from the run of play is still coming. He'll make defenders look silly.
Predicted starting lineup?
Huge thanks to Josie for taking time out of her day to answer my questions. You can read more about the LA Galaxy at her site LAG Confidential.
What do you think of this LA Galaxy side?