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

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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.