Despite the relatively farcical nature of this made for Mexican TV tournament, SuperLiga does have the international cachet and million dollar prize that MLS teams dream of. Beating the best teams (mostly) from Mexico in this regional rivalry are a big step towards more international recognition, and with LA and DC so close to the final, this match might well be even more hotly contested than winning Beckham’s first MLS match last week.
Obviously United has the edge with their recent form in MLS, but aside from that LA has some way more serious internal issues to face. First and foremost is the whole Beckham situation, and beyond that are some heinous injury and suspension problems they will be hard pressed to overcome.
LA is in the midst of a ridiculously crowded bi-coastal schedule right now which is mainly due to Beckham. When he signed with the league in January, MLS immediately sought to maximize his marketing potential by back loading LA’s schedule with piles of road matches to be played after his arrival. In effect LA has yet to even reach the middle of its 30 game MLS season having only played 14 matches, while most teams are entering the home stretch with less than 10 matches to go.
So, that leaves LA in the midst of a stretch of 10 games in 33 days having played in Toronto, DC, NE, and now back to LA in the last 12 days, before jetting out for NY this coming Saturday in their desperate attempt to make up ground in the MLS playoff race. That’s a tough stretch for any team to deal with considering the travel and lack of practice.
Yet, LA’s woes are worse than that with three players suspended for this match, and some troubling injuries as well. Obviously, Beckham’s ankle is the water-cooler talk of the summer, and it’s doubtful he’ll play more than 30 minutes if even that. But, Xavier was rested against NE with tendonitis, and might still be a bit tender. Pavon has looked out of shape and ineffective, Buddle has been little better. Also, Cobi might be out for the rest of his career with a hip problem, and Albright is still not back yet, with his replacement Troy Roberts likely still out with an ankle injury.
Suspended are Kelly Gray, who was the best bet to replace Roberts, so Klein has been forced to cover right back, and Ante Jazic who is the only decent left back LA has is suspended as well. Yallop played Randolph back there against NE to tip his thinking for the game against DC, but it will be a patchwork defense for sure no matter who takes the field. Their offense takes a hit too, as Alan Gordon who had been starting for the unimpressive Pavon and Buddle, is suspended as well.
United will only be missing the services of left back revelation Marc Burch, as he is suspended. But, it seems likely the return of Vanney to health will push uber-reserve McTavish out to the left to cover. If Gomez is available to start, Gros might get shoved back there, but with Christian in street clothes a week ago, it seems his participation will be along the same lines as Beckham’s at best.
So, given the situation, DC clearly has the overwhelming advantages is this match. They are on form coming off two rousing wins, and with the much deeper roster, their missing players should be about as troublesome as a cloudy day.
Offensively, Emilio and Kpene should run rings around the woefully inadequate Harden and the dinged up Xavier. Fred should be able to replicate his dynamic central midfield role assuming Martino doesn’t take another crack at his ankles. In an odd twist, Martino can play this game less than a week after his ugly red card tackle on Fred in RFK. Olsen and Gros should have no trouble roaming the wings as LA’s box midfield leaves space outside. Or if Klein and Randolph push up to cover the outsides, then the inside defense will be open for exploitation.
Defensively, Pavon is a big body and can be a precise finisher, but has shown nothing that should worry United as yet. Buddle also has the tools, but has shown little of the work ethic needed, so it doesn’t seem likely these two will force Boswell and Vanney to extend themselves. Simms is much more physical than Carroll, which is what’s needed to limit Donovan’s damage, and as long as Martino isn’t given any opportunities to dive like he got in Chicago a few weeks ago, then he is a negligible threat.
DC tends to find good results in LA as well. They pulled off the stunning theft of a point earlier this year, and gave up a late goal to tie their last year and also in 2004. In 2005, DC pulled out a last minute win with a remarkable goal from Freddy. All in all, DC has only lost once in the Home Depot Center and that was in golden goal double overtime. If this match goes to overtime, it is a full 30 minutes followed by penalties.
However, while DC has done well against the Galaxy in big MLS matches like their two MLS Cup victories; International competitions haven’t gone quite as well. DC lost the Giant’s Cup final to Club America in LA in 2001, and has been beaten by the Galaxy twice in the Concacaf Cup, on penalties in 2000 in LA, and 0-1 in 1997 in RFK.
Still that’s ancient history, DC has all the advantages in this one and should come away with a spot in the SuperLiga final secured. Barring a return to United’s early road form, or Donovan running amok in the open field, DC wins this going away. They need to finish off the Galaxy better than they did a week ago as that game DC dominated, but let LA hang around long enough to let Beckham in and make it dicey at the end. Two early goals should see this to an easy finish.
Should United advance to the final scheduled for August 29th, the location of the final will depend on the results of the other semifinal between Pachuca and Houston. A Houston win and DC travels to Houston for another likely hopeless effort this season. If Pachuca wins their grudge match, DC should host the final, likely at Fed Ex field.
United returns to MLS action this Saturday in Columbus at 7:30 PM.