CARSON, Calif. – Among the thousands set to watch Friday’s match-up between the New York Red Bulls and the LA Galaxy on ESPN2 and at The Home Depot Center, one person will be observing with a particularly keen eye.
On Thursday, MLSsoccer.com spoke to US national team manager Bob Bradley, who sized up the highly anticipated match-up between the top two star-studded teams in the league.
For Bradley, each team’s attacking weapons and their ability to impact the match represent the most intriguing angle to Friday’s nationally televised showcase.
“The ability for the Red Bulls back line to deal with the presence of Edson [Buddle] and the movement that comes from Landon [Donovan], wherever he plays,” Bradley said, “those become very, very important things.
“Everyone knows when you face the Red Bulls, [Dane] Richards’s speed on the right side is an important part of what they’re all about,” added Bradley. “And you can’t take away Juan Pablo Angel’s pure goal scoring ability.”
While Bradley singled those out as each team’s key factors, he also pointed to a tactical nuance in midfield that could tip the balance of the game and will be worth keeping a close eye on.
“With [Dema] Kovalenko back in the midfield for the Galaxy, he brings an ability to push things harder in the center of the field,” Bradley said. “It creates a good match-up there to see which team gets a little bit of an edge there on the night.”
The Galaxy will face a Red Bulls side that has an organization and structure that Bradley credits Red Bulls manager Hans Backe with implementing early on in the season.
However, for the second straight match, Backe is expected to abandon the 4-4-2 setup he had used for most of the season. Instead, it looks like he’ll field the new 4-5-1 tactical formation used last week, featuring Ángel as the lone forward and attacking midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy playing behind the striker.
Bradley said that experimenting with lineups this late in the season is obviously a challenge.
“You’d much rather prefer that those things are totally established by this time of the year,” he said. “But when you look at the timing of adding [Rafa] Márquez and [Thierry] Henry and now Ballouchy, [New York] still have these games to try to look at their options knowing that certainly the talent level has gone up.”
For the first time all season, the Galaxy have had their entire squad participate in full training ahead of Friday’s match against the Red Bulls. With everyone back, LA hope their recent stumbles will give way to a strong finish beginning with this week’s showcase meeting.
“No team goes from start to finish in a season where it’s just a smooth, straight ride,” Bradley said. “A team goes through a stretch with some little bumps along the way.
“I think any time you’re getting closer to the end, good teams recognize the need to get things right as you get down the stretch and get ready for the playoffs. You can see that when they [Galaxy] played against Columbus [3-1 LA victory].”
Strip away all the talk, hype and analysis surrounding the match and it’s clear the stakes are high for both big city clubs in what promises to be one of the great MLS events of 2010.
“It’s a real big opportunity,” Bradley said. “Friday night, great crowd, ESPN2 … All those things make it what everyone is excited about it.”