Time to get back to the business of winning MLS games.
The LA Galaxy will try to do exactly that on Saturday evening in one of the toughest road environments in the league, BMO Field in Toronto. The Reds are riding a five-game winning streak in MLS, with their last loss coming in the first week of May. Coincidently that loss was at the hands of Real Salt Lake, the same team that put the lone blemish on LA’s record before the World Cup break.
It all adds up to an intriguing encounter on Saturday evening.
This will be the second and final game between the teams, after a 0-0 draw at The Home Depot Center nearly six weeks ago. That was the same evening that Galaxy fans sent Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle off to join Bob Bradley and the U.S. Men’s National Team before their trip to South Africa— we’ll have more on that later.
The game on May 15 was a pretty dull affair if I must say so. TFC had a couple chances early in the game, including one for Dwayne DeRosario from point blank range that went wide of Josh Saunders’ post. The Galaxy’s best chance came through Edson Buddle, whose close range shot beat Stefan Frei but caromed off the post midway through the second half, denying the Galaxy the full three points at home.
Toronto FC coach, Preki finally seems to have his team all reading from the same script these days. After a rough start to the 2010 campaign that saw the Reds lose three of their first four, TFC is now unbeaten in six of their last seven.
One common denominator during this run is that Preki has identified his core group of players to produce results. DeRosario leads the team with eight goals, but has started only one of the last three games. His partner up front, Chad Barrett is always a handful for 65+ minutes. Nick LaBrocca, Jacob Peterson, Amadou Sanyang and Martin Saric have held down the midfield, while Stefan Frei and Nana Attakora have been the regular contributors in the defense. Nick Garcia has started the last four matches for TFC, but will have to watch this one from the stands, due to a red card suspension the MLS veteran picked up 27 minutes into Toronto’s 0-0 draw with Kansas City last time out, a result that Preki was vocally not happy with after the game.
The Galaxy had quite a bit of time to think about what went down in Salt Lake City. The time has also allowed a few players time to heal nagging injuries, as well as take a little time to step away from the game and recharge the batteries.
There is no question that the goal that basically ended LA’s amazing unbeaten run to open the season was controversial. Javier Morales was clearly in an offside position, which is not debatable. But what was up for debate was whether rookie, Michael Stephens had an intended to play the ball back to Omar Gonzalez or whether the ball was deflected off of him.
Last week in their weekly Referee’s Week in Review, U.S. Soccer said that the ball did deflect off Stephens and that the goal should not have stood. While that’s a bitter way to see a potential record breaking unbeaten streak come to end, there is no doubt that referee errors are part of the game. Something that we’ve all seen while watching the U.S. during the World Cup.
That said, it’s all water under the bridge, and this is something that the Galaxy have to put behind them in order to begin another quality run for the final four months of the year. There is no doubt this team has the talent to do it, if they can mentally regroup and take action. A solid performance on Saturday, in particular in the first half would be a positive first step.
There are two factors that will help the Galaxy earn a result. First will be the control of the midfield. If Juninho and Chris Birchall can hold the ball, and spend less time chasing, the Galaxy will have the upper hand. This will allow Juninho time to incorporate the wide players such as Michael Stephens and Sean Franklin on the right and Alex Cazumba and Todd Dunivant on the left, into the play. Plus when Birchall has to do a lot of ball chasing, usually that is an indication the team is a bit stretched out of its shape, and often scrambling to cover defensively.
The second factor relates to the first, as it centers on the midfield. Defensively in that part of the field LA will need to close the space and make it difficult for TFC to have time to play the ball forward for DeRosario and Barrett. When the Galaxy is pushed forward, Toronto is excellent at the counter. Often the way that Toronto gets in behind defenses is with quick; explosive passes for Barrett and DeRosario to run onto. If the Galaxy defense can limit the chances for that pass, they will go a long way toward getting another three points.
QUICK HITS –
Top of the list, the U.S. National Team has been incredible! Watching the game against Algeria with Chris Klein, we both turned into kids jumping around when Landon put that ball into the net. Let’s hope the mojo carries right into Saturday’s first knockout game. Come on you Yanks!!! USA, USA, USA!
Continuing on that theme, you may recall that a certain Galaxy broadcaster said that Bob Bradley’s squad would finish the group with 5 points and move on to the knockout stage. That same mind also predicted a 1-1 result in the opening Group C game against England. Yes… for once (or twice even) I was right.
Back in LA, Jovan Kirovski and Tristan Bowen have a new challenge. With Buddle and Donovan still away on international duties (above mentioned match), teams will now game plan to try and stop the Galaxy’s attacking duo. This will be an opportunity to see if the two worked on any new wrinkles during the two-week break.
Donovan Ricketts will get his first look at Toronto FC this weekend as Josh Saunders made his lone MLS start of the 2010 season against TFC on May 15. Ricketts gave up one goal in a 2-1 win for the Galaxy in last years same fixture in Canada, though that game was played on turf, while this year’s game will be played on the natural grass surface that TFC laid down on the field before the start of this season.
Speaking of BMO Field, no question the place will be rocking. This will be my fourth year travelling north to Toronto and it keeps getting better. There is always a fantastic crowd and it is arguably one of the best environments in MLS to watch a game, let alone call the match. It never gets old and is always a treat.
Finally, I mentioned that TFC will line-up without Nick Garcia. As a result, it is very possible that former Galaxy defender Ty Harden will be inserted into the lineup in Garcia’s spot. Dedicated Galaxy fans will remember Harden’s diving goal line clearance in the Galaxy’s first visit to Toronto back in 2007. That save kept the game scoreless and helped to preserve a 0-0 draw.