View from the Booth: Galaxy face Columbus in matchup of Conference leaders

Galaxy look to rediscover home form on Saturday against the Crew

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The LA Galaxy
and Columbus Crew meet for the second time this season, and with the league’s
best record up for grabs, this game has much more meaning than the first one at
Crew Stadium back on May 29. After Saturday’s encounter both teams will have
just six matches remaining in the regular season, with LA having a favorable
schedule over that stretch. The Galaxy have just two road games remaining on
the schedule, although one of those matches is the second installment of the Honda
SuperClasico at The Home Depot Center. I know I said it a few weeks back
following the win in New York,
but it is worth repeating, the Galaxy need to get back on track and start
building toward the playoffs. 

Considering
how rough the road has been over the past few weeks, LA still finds itself with
the opportunity to have the league’s highest point total after this weekend’s
matches. In the process, the Galaxy can also really gauge how well, or poor,
they are playing at this point in the year. 

The Crew have
again been the most consistent team in the East, and a win against Columbus would go a long
way to restoring some confidence.  I don’t
think many of the players would admit to that, but I have a feeling a number of
you fans would feel better with three points on Saturday.  Even if the offense struggles, I will take a
solid defensive performance, particularly a shutout, to start this final
stretch.

Working in
the soccer broadcasting business I am afforded the opportunity to speak with a
variety of players, coaches, and pundits throughout the soccer world.  As of late I have heard a wide spectrum of
questions, “what’s going on in LA?” or “why are the Galaxy not getting results
now like they were early in the season?” The truth is that there are no simple
answers to these questions, and because I can’t always point to something
specific, at times it might seem like I am down on the squad. That couldn’t be
more wrong. 

The fact is
that the 2010 version of the Galaxy showed what they can do when in rhythm as a
unit, and thus raised expectations in the first half of the year. I have said
all along that it would have been tough to play at that level through the course
of all 30 games, but the dry spell has lasted a bit longer than I expected. Since
the World Cup break, the Galaxy have played ten games in the league, winning just
three times.  If LA expects to make some
noise in the playoffs, they will have to start building some momentum heading
toward the second season. But time is running out and answers have to come
sooner than later.

A perfect
example of what I am looking for will come to Carson this weekend.  Superior teams in MLS find a way to get
through a string of bad results, and get back to earning points, both home and
away. The Crew were also unbeaten when they faced the Galaxy early in the
year.  After the 2-0 defeat against LA, Columbus would draw their next match and follow up that
result with a loss to Colorado.
The shine was off the proverbial apple.

But since
that time in June, the Crew have played 12 times in the league, getting a
result in nine of them. In other words, there have been a couple of bumps in
the road for the Crew, but each time the team has responded with a win or a
draw, and not once have they recorded back to back losses.     

Part of why
the Crew has been consistently good in MLS over the past three years is that
the team is strong in all facets of the game. 
It starts with good goalkeeping from William Hesmer, to strong veteran
leadership and defending from Chad
Marshall and
Frankie Hejduk, and then the incredible vision and craftiness of the teams’
leading scorer, the former MLS MVP, Guillermo Barros Schelotto.  Sprinkle in a deep roster of players that
understand and embrace their roles and it is easy to understand why the Crew
are considered the team to beat in the East, if not the league.

Taking all
of that into consideration, if the Galaxy can take all three points at home on
Saturday evening and finish a season sweep of the Crew, it could go a long way
toward swinging the public opinion as to the team to beat back in the Galaxy’s
direction.

Quick Hits

Despite
what you may have just read above, the stats don’t all favor Columbus. 
The Crew is winless in seven games on the road against teams from the
West this season, and of the five losses Columbus
have on the year, four have come versus teams outside of their conference…

I know
Donovan Ricketts is still statistically one of the best goalkeepers in MLS, but
he has pulled the ball out of his net more frequently than we are accustomed to
as of late.  The Galaxy have just two
shutouts since the World Cup break and have not shutout an MLS team at The Home
Depot Center since a 0-0 draw with Toronto FC on May 15. The defensive load
does not all fall on the shoulders of Ricketts, but like a hot goal scorer at
the other end, a keeper can invigorate the defenders around him when he is at
the top of his game. A shutout means at least one point, and more often than
not for LA, it means three...

The absence
of Gregg Berhalter continues to not only be a bit of a mystery, but also a
nuisance. Berhalter’s organization of the defenders around him appears to be a
bigger piece of the puzzle than I may have thought at the beginning of the
year. The positive that might come out of this is that young defenders Omar
Gonzalez and Leonardo are getting good minutes together, something that may be
vital in the postseason…

Hats off to
Eddie Lewis, who announced this week on “Cup of Joe” that this season will be his last. 
Galaxy fans have not seen as much of the veteran as they did last year,
but maybe the best is yet to come. Lewis, who scored a memorable goal in
stoppage time (on his birthday no less) the last time the Crew and Galaxy
tangled in Carson, will complete a great
career in both MLS and over in England when
this season comes to a close. Let’s hope for Lewis that it finishes with
raising a trophy in November, something that has eluded him to this point in
his MLS journey…

While we
prepare to say good bye to Lewis, there is hope that Galaxy fans will be saying
welcome back to David Beckham this weekend. 
Beckham seemed pretty optimistic at practice this week that he would
take the pitch for 15-20 minutes this weekend. Beckham took part in a training
game with the club on Wednesday and has looked good since returning to the
field last month. Bruce Arena said that team club planned to be cautious with
their star midfielder, but the more time that goes by, the harder it will be
for him to keep Becks off the field.