LA-HOU Series Has Different Look in 2010

Rematch of 2009 Western Conference Title Game, Has a Much Different Look in 2010

At first
glance, one might say that Saturday’s match at Robertson Stadium in Houston pits the teams
that met each other in the Conference Finals last year. Yes the names of the
clubs are the same, but the 2010 version is a stark contrast to the
Dynamo-Galaxy you watched last November.

Missing
from last year’s roster for Houston
are midfielders Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden, both of whom left MLS during
the offseason, and forward Brian Ching, who’s been ruled out for this game with
a hamstring injury. Consequently, Brad Davis, Houston’s leading scorer up to this point in
the season, is the player with the most success when facing LA. In 21 games
against the Galaxy, Davis
has accounted for four goals and five assists.

Meanwhile,
the Galaxy returned their nucleus from the 2009 MLS Cup run in tact, and have
now added some new faces to improve the roster. 
Three of those signings started in the last match, Leonardo, Juninho and
Alex Cazumba, all on-loan from Sao Paulo FC in Brazil. 

Although
not a new face, Edson Buddle appears to have found the “tonic” that he was
drinking in 2008, when the New York
native had a career year, finishing third in the race for the MLS Golden Boot
with 15 goals. Buddle has all three of the Galaxy’s goals in the first two
games of the year. 

Defensively,
2009 MLS Rookie of the Year Omar Gonzalez continues to grow before our eyes,
and now has the look of a veteran, even though it is just his sophomore season
in the league.  Along the same lines, the
Jamaican “backstop,” Donovan Ricketts is back to 100 percent, and I have a
feeling might challenge some of the single season goalkeeping records for both
the Galaxy and MLS in 2010. 

In the
previous four years, when LA has come to Robertson Stadium, Houston has been the clear favorite in the
match-up. This year, the teams stack up even, with a slight edge in the
Galaxy’s favor. 

That is not
to say that the Dynamo doesn’t have some very talented players that can make an
impact on the match, but I think the Galaxy have made such incredible growth in
the past 15 months that they’ve closed the gap. The most obvious improvement
has come in the defense. 

It has been
detailed that LA allowed half the number of goals in 2009 that they allowed in
2008 - a huge improvement. What does LA do to make it difficult for their
opponent?  It’s their discipline and the compact
shape of the back five. The four defenders, and a healthy Dema Kovalenko in the
midfield, make it very tough for opponents to find space to operate in the
final third of the field.  Kovalenko is
the player that gets the least amount of press, but the way he sits in front of
the defenders and “robs” the ball to start the attack in the other direction,
is a key component for the Galaxy to have success. 

If the
young Juninho can learn to take the ball from Dema once he wins it back in the
middle of the field that might prove to be the 1-2 punch the Galaxy have been
seeking for a number of years.  

The
Brazilian Report – Part II:
I think it is to be expected that the three young
Brazilian players the Galaxy have added will have their ups & downs this
season. Like me, I think many of you are hoping that there are more ups, than
downs. After a solid performance by the group in the home opener vs. New
England, the trio had a less impressive game against Chivas USA. 

Of the
three, Leonardo has been the player that has impressed me the most. Partnering
with Gonzalez in the central part of defense, Leonardo not only shows good
defensive skills, but has the confidence on the ball to play out of the back,
and at least so far, has not tried to do more than he needs to when the ball is
at his feet. 

Juninho is
the player with the biggest upside for me. There is no doubt about his
abilities with the ball at his feet, but he has also shown the soccer IQ to
make runs off the ball. But, he did disappear a couple of times in the game
against Chivas. Those are words that you don’t want to say about your central
midfielder. It will be interesting to see which direction he goes in his third
appearance of the season.

Lastly,
there is one Galaxy player that I have not mentioned. That is LA’s captain,
Landon Donovan.  Donovan has assisted on each
of the Galaxy’s goals this season, but has yet to find the back of the net
himself.  Donovan has three goals and
three assists in eight games for his career against Houston and I expect him to add to that line
on Saturday. 

LA has not
done the greatest job of utilizing the best player in MLS in their first two
games, and I will be eager to ask Bruce Arena how that might change this
weekend.  I hope you tune into FS West,
and one way or another we will have some answers to that exact question.