Missing for the Galaxy will be former United player Chris Albright with a hamstring pull, Canadians Ante Jazic and Kevin Harmse as well as Landon Donovan who are off to train for the Gold Cup, and on top of that, Kyle Martino pulled an Aunger and suspended himself from this game with a red card last week against the Rapids. United on the other hand is the only team in MLS not affected by the Gold Cup and will only miss the services of the mysteriously injured Brian Carroll and rookie Bryan Arguez who’s off to the Youth World Cup.
Absences aside, this match is a classic example of two teams heading in different directions. United has tinkered to fix their early season problems and their play has steadily improved, while the Galaxy started off promisingly enough but have headed downhill ever since. United went undefeated in May and hasn’t lost since being shut out on the road versus the Crew April 28th. That same weekend was the last time LA won a game by beating Chivas 3-1, and the month of May was far less kind to the Galaxy who went winless and only managed one point in tying Chivas “on the road”.
So, given the situation and current trends, it’s hard predict against United, but one thought keeps nagging at me like a stone in my shoe is that United has an appalling tendency to play down to the opposition and not take advantage of these situations. Countless times DC has faced depleted teams and let them off the hook in the end for a late tie or loss.
United has a decent record overall in the Tool Box going undefeated since their inaugural loss their in 2003. But their lone win was a 1-0 (Freddy’s fantastic finish!) in 2005 surrounded by two 1-1 ties, and last year was a classic example of DC’s overconfidence against teams on the slide. United was riding a three game win streak going into LA in early June then as well, but LA pulled off an improbable tie when DC went into cruise control instead of slipping in the old dagger as Ramblin’ Ray would say.
LA was without Donovan and Albright in that match as well, and Cobi was coming back from injury, so after a brilliant early goal by Christian Gomez, DC should have closed out the game easily. Instead, DC let off the gas and LA got to hang around long enough to allow Sideshow Cobi to come off the bench and tie the game in the 88th minute.
Another bit of angst is that United killer Joe Cannon now puts on his gloves in LA. He alone has been known to change the face of any game, and against United he has pulled off saves that border on the surreal. If he decides to have one of his days, United could well struggle to score no matter who is playing in front of him. Considering LA is without both starting outside defenders, and rookie starting central defender Ty Harden has been getting beat like a drum at times, you’d think that DC’s exciting South Americans should be able to expose them, but maybe not unless Cannon has an off day.
It will be interesting to see how Tommy Soehn approaches this game as well. Guy-Roland Kpene replaced Jaime in the last game and played very well, and while Moreno is back from Bolivian duties, Emilio could well be due for some time on the pine. The Brazilian has struggled of late and while the team is surging, he has been largely invisible. But a depleted defense might be just what the doctor ordered to get Luciano back on track, if Soehn chooses to send Kpene back to his super sub role.
In midfield, DC should easily win all the battles even without Brian Carroll who seems to have picked up an injury somewhere and didn’t even make the trip to LA. However, Clyde Simms should easily be able to fill his shoes, and quite possibly might be a better fit against LA anyway as they will be playing without any playmakers so breaking up killer passes is less important than good ball control and savvy picking up of runners, which Simms does better than Carroll in my opinion.
On DC’s right, Fred will likely be attacking converted midfielder Ian Russell and I doubt Fred loses that matchup, while Olsen will have a tougher time against the bigger and athletic Kyle Veris. But Benny is smart and all he has to do is provide enough presence to stretch the field for others. Another game-winning goal from him would of course be welcome, but even without that he should be fine on the left in this particular match. Gomez has had trouble with Vagenas in the past, but Captain Pete for LA will have to push forward a lot more given LA’s absences, and that should swing the pendulum easily in Gomez’ favor.
Defensively, DC should be in good shape no matter who LA trots out there. If Yallop goes with Jaqua alone up top as is likely, then Boswell and Erpen should bottle him up easily. Even if Yallop tosses in the speed of Findley and the savvy of Cobi, or the even the unpredictability of former United forward Santino Quaranta, (who’s been looking dreadful lately but has mad skills if he manages to find his game) DC’s defense has looked extremely good of late outside the odd Josh Gros clanger.
Which brings up an interesting thought. If Gros continues to struggle and gives up another goal, would that signify an end to the 4-4-2? Or would Josh just head to the bench and be replaced? This is a game that Josh should not be pressured too much and should be able to handle pretty well. He will likely be facing either the defensive minded Nathan Sturgis, or the long past it Cobi Jones. If Gros struggles mightily in this game that might well send Tommy Soehn back to the drawing board.
Still, it’s hard to say how LA will pull off an upset this time. A tie maybe if DC plays down to their level. But a loss has to be out of the question. DC can’t afford to give any more points away if they want to make a run in the East. With the white hot Red Bulls waiting in the wings to visit RFK next weekend already seven points up on DC, United simply can’t let this fish off the hook.