And here we are... We have two solid weeks of MLS championship material. Honestly, I'm not sure which is worse, playing the Los Angeles Galaxy away from home or playing Real Salt Lake anywhere else. Both teams will be extremely difficult to beat given their depth of skill and each's confidence riding into the season (both were picked early on as the #1 and #2 teams in the league). We won't worry too much about Real Salt Lake today as that game isn't until April 30th. Today is all about the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Now, I'm fairly familiar with this Los Angeles Galaxy team. Being originally from LA, I've followed the Galaxy for a number of years up until 2010. Aside from a few key players they acquired over the off-season I feel like I have a fantastic look into the way Los Angeles plays and how they win games.
Oh and before anybody starts questioning loyalties... I was from Los Angeles, but I despise the city. It was a loyalty of convenience given my family is still down there. I decided long ago that when the Portland Timbers joined the league any loyalty I had would be severed cleanly. They're just another western conference rival now.
Holy Designated Player...
There's a reason why the Los Angeles Galaxy fills the stands routinely around the nation: they're loaded with designated player stars. Honestly, with so many DPs I'm surprised they were able to build such a deep squad everywhere else considering having a DP still takes a considerable salary cap chunk. Suffice it to say, these are the three players that our team should really focus on locking down hard and fast.
First up, we have the free kick wonder David Beckham. I'm sure he needs no introduction as many of you are pretty well versed in his accolades around the world. Lucky for us he's getting older, slower, and losing his form, even if it's only slightly. He's also easy to anger which means if he does play today, if Jack Jewsbury or one of our defenders agitates him enough he'll get flustered and frustrated. Still, with David Beckham on the field we'll have to be very, very careful about giving away free kicks near our goal as he can still slot one in regularly like that.
Up next we have the forming New York Red Bull striker and fellow Colombian to Jorge Perlaza and David Chara: Juan Pablo Angel. While he hasn't performed as such yet for the Galaxy (these things take time), he was and still is New York's all time leading goal scorer. Juan Pablo Angel has a knack for the goal and a taste for be in the right place at the right time.
Finally, we have the big little guy Landon Donovan. Easily the Galaxy's most dangerous player and a stalwart on the US Men's National Team. He's fast, has fantastic technical skill, and knows how to score a goal yet isn't selfish either. Typically the Galaxy lives and dies based on how Landon Donovan is playing. Luckily for us, he's been out the last couple days on a right knee inflammation and is still listed as questionable. We can only hope that he doesn't play at all today because of it.
The good news here is that, looking at MLS's pre-game fact sheet, for whatever reason Los Angeles' 'probable' staring line up includes none of the DPs. Let's hope it stays that way.
At this point, my most feared player on the Los Angeles Galaxy is their creative, dynamic midfielder Junihno. This kid is talented, fast and, since the beginning of the season, has an incredibly knack for scoring when there's no goal to be scored. He pulls things out of nowhere that, quite frankly, isn't done in MLS. Were it not for a bit of headstrong-ness and and youthful exuberance I'd say he would rival Landon Donovan as being the center piece for this team.
Despite not showing up in the probable starting line up, I fully expect Junihno to start tonight. There's no reason not to. He's coming off a couple week's rest due to a red card and he'll be itching to make his mark on the field.
The important thing to know about Junihno is that, in many ways, he's a lot like our own Khalif Alhassan. He's a wiggler. He's able to zig zag his way in and out of the defense to miraculously get behind them. Unfortunately, our defense is still shaky so locking up this kid should be priority one. A difficult task for Eric Brunner and Futty Danso, our likely starting center defenders.
Breaking Through the Wall
Finally, we'll take a look at Los Angeles' unshakable backline. While they haven't been as stalwart in 2011, last year they were a rock and easily the most defensive side in all of MLS. Three of last year's starting backline have returned this year, with the fourth being injured and taking on more of a player-coaching role anyway.
The two big guys to look our for will be Omar Gonzalez and Todd Dunivant, playing center left and left back respectively. This will be an incredibly challenging side to play on and, honestly, I'm ready to count being able to do much of anything from the left out right now. Todd Dunivant and Omar Gonzalez are experienced veterans at this point who know each other and are each damn good at what they do.
The right side is a bit more forgiving, especially given that it looks like small and speedy right back AJ DeLaGarza will be taking on the center right position given that Leonardo was injured in the last game against the Chicago Fire. Combine him with a speedy and attacking oriented Sean Franklin and we have a side that's not terribly defense oriented. As such I fully expect Rodney Wallace, Khalif Alhassan, and Jorge Perlaza to work their magic on this side and get in deep.
Finally, we have the Los Angeles goalkeeper: Donovan Ricketts. He's big, confident and was one of the best, if not the best goalkeeper in 2010. he's recently gotten back onto the pitch after being out the first couple games and I fully expect him to be 100% for tonight's game. Aside from playing against Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando, there's not another goalkeeper in this league I wish we could avoid. He'll be making big saves tonight, guaranteed.
It's going to be a tough game tonight, but also an exciting one. Playing Los Angeles, for me especially, is a fantastic occasion as they're one of MLS's precious marquee clubs. They were bending rules for Los Angeles before the Designated Player was even allowed. I'm sure they'll do it again in the future if AEG, the Galaxy's owner, wants to.
Tonight's game is on Fox Soccer Channel at 8:00PM. I'll have my match thread up around noon.