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View from the Booth: Chicago Challenge Awaits

It is hard to point to one specific factor that has changed causing the Galaxy to come back to the rest of the league in the month of July.  I guess I understand why they are called the “dog days of summer”.  The month of July alone has dragged on like a thirsty dog’s long tongue hanging out on the way to the water dish! 

The inconsistent form the Galaxy have displayed throughout the month of July makes you wonder which team to expect to show up at The HDC come Sunday afternoon. 

After setting the league ablaze in the first four months, the Galaxy have surrendered goals, failed to score at the same pace they displayed early in the year, and now have all but been bounced from the CONCACAF Champions League.  Yes this team is still nine points clear of RSL in the West, but if LA does not find its rhythm soon, they are likely to be the team trying to “fetch” points in the final weeks of the year.

The Chicago Fire arrive in town fresh off of being knocked out of Superliga and have not played a league game since July 8.  Even further the Fire have not won an MLS game in over a month.  So one might think that based on the recent form of the team from the Windy City that the Galaxy should be primed to win on Sunday? 

Not so fast.  Chicago is one of two teams in the league that has played just 14 games, meaning there is still a very large chunk of the year in front of the Fire.  The team added Mexican International, Nery Castillo as a DP (through he probably won’t be with the team this week) and now have traded to bring Freddie Ljungberg over from Seattle to bolster the line-up.  With players like Brian McBride, Marco Pappa and youngster Patrick Nyarko already part of the nucleus, all of a sudden the Fire go from a team that was going to fight for a playoff spot, to a team that should challenge for the top spot in the East. 

Bottom line is that Chicago is a hungry and dangerous team coming into this game.

Using the same logic to look at the Galaxy have me thinking that after their midweek performance, as bad as it was, LA will come out with great energy looking to make a statement to the rest of MLS.

There is no time like the present to get things in order, and it starts with playing well in the first 15 minutes of the game.  LA has not recorded a shutout in an MLS game, since the last week of June, a 0-0 game at BMO Field.  In their last MLS contest, it took a whole two minutes for the Earthquakes to take the lead, and if not for a late strike from Landon Donovan, the Galaxy would have walked away with nothing for the first time in a league game this year.  For a team that was incredibly solid defensively through the first half of the season, I know I am not the only one wondering what has changed.  Whatever “it” is, the Galaxy needs to remedy it in a hurry.  Ricketts and Co. are due for a strong performance.    

Offensively the Galaxy is fine.  Even in the recent 4-1 loss to Puerto Rico the Galaxy had the majority of the possession, quality chances around the goal, but just failed to finish them.  I expect that will change against the Fire.  Teams are doing a good job of forcing the Galaxy to find new names to put on the scoring sheet.  Edson Buddle is going to face a tough one-on-one battle with Fire defender Wilman Conde.  The Colombian has the physical tools to stay with Edson all night, which tells me there will be an opportunity for another forward to find some space.  If it is indeed Alan Gordon starting along side Buddle up front, like the Galaxy, Gordon is due for a breakout game. 

Lastly, let’s talk about Captain Landon Donovan.  Donovan continues to perform at an MVP rate and LA is going to need every bit of it.  My one major concern would be that Landon has played so much soccer over the last year that you can’t help but think it will be tough for him to maintain that level.  If anyone can do it though, it is Landon.  I am sticking with my claim that the Galaxy captain will get to double digit goals for the year. He’s only got three right now, but two he has scored in each of his last two league games and looks to be finding his scoring touch. As if opposing defenders didn’t have enough to worry about with his ability to create goals, he now seems to be scoring them for fun, making him that much more dangerous.

Quick Hits –

In this same spot on the page before last week’s game against San Jose, I was raving about the play of Sean Franklin.  Franklin continues to play well, but I think he has to play at right back.  He can still get forward from that spot, but his contributions to the defense are huge.  Plus, then you can continue to use rookie, Michael Stephens in the midfield leading to better possession in the middle part of the pitch.

Donovan Ricketts needs a shutout in a bad way.   Ricketts has been stuck on nine for quite a while and recording #10 on Sunday might be the catalyst for the Galaxy to get back on track for the final third of the year.

Quietly Todd Dunivant has been one of the most consistent players for LA this year.  He leads the team in minutes played and has been steady as they come on the left side of the defense.  Maybe it is coincidence, but Dunivant did not play against Puerto Rico and the team gave up 4 goals.  Having #2 back in the line-up will be a welcome sight.