There is so much to play for at The Home Depot Center on Saturday night when the Galaxy host the Colorado Rapids. In addition to trying to capture the Supporters’ Shield, LA can come within a point of 60 for 2010, a total only two other teams have accomplished in the history of MLS.
Defeating a Western Conference rival would also add some much needed clarity to the playoff table, though it would not completely solidify things entirely.
For all intents and purposes, the playoffs begin now.
The Colorado Rapids arrive in Carson for their penultimate game of the year with plenty at stake. Needing just a single point to secure their first postseason berth since 2006, Gary Smith’s team looks to be a good bet to become the eighth team to complete the MLS Cup Playoffs dance card. However, the Rapids must face the top two teams in the league to close out the season, while Kansas City, who can catch Colorado with a pair of wins to end their season, travel to New England and host San Jose to end their season.
The Rapids certainly do not want to leave their playoff hopes resting on a regular season finale, against their rivals, Real Salt Lake, in what is always one of the most unpredictable matches of the year – the Rocky Mountain Cup. Given Colorado’s late season struggles over the past few years, they will be doing everything that they can to remove any drama heading into the season’s final week.
The Rapids bring a lot of dangerous pieces into the game. Two players in particular, Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, have been thorns in the Galaxy’s side in the past. Both have appeared six times against the Galaxy, and collectively have five goals and four assists. It is an ideal blend of speed and physical play from the two. Behind them, Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz have been holding down the center of the field, breaking up attacks and quickly starting their own. For years the Rapids have searched for a talented, steady player to play along side Mastroeni, and after trading for the long time Revolution mainstay during the offseason, it appears that their search is over.
Defensively there is some athleticism and speed with Marvell Wynne and Anthony Wallace while Matt Pickens has put up solid numbers (1.07 GAA and seven shutouts) in his second year in goal for Colorado.
Looking now at the Galaxy, the area of the game that has been exposed the most over the past two months of the season has been the club’s defense. Granted there have been some major injuries, a suspension, and even some bad luck during that stretch. But the recent win against Philadelphia was the second straight game that Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza were paired in central defense, with Gregg Berhalter missing an eighth straight game because of a neck strain and Yohance Marshall away with Trinidad and Tobago’s National Team.
If Gregg is not back in time for the postseason, would this be Bruce Arena’s first choice pairing in central defense? The two second year players are former college teammates and have shown a good understanding of one another, so I don’t think that it is as dire a question as it may have seemed just a few weeks ago.
I won’t leave out Donovan Ricketts either. Yes, he needed a shutout to give himself a shot at putting his name in the Galaxy record book… again. Even further, looking outside the numbers, that was a hugely important performance for the psyche of the big Jamaican. It is no secret that keepers are streaky, and it is fair to say that Ricketts has allowed a few goals that he would like back of late, so getting a performance of that caliber was a very welcomed site.
At the attacking end, what is not to love about the Galaxy? For the opponent it has to be a case of pick your poison.
There is Edson Buddle, the MLS leading scorer, the potential MLS MVP in Landon Donovan, plus a healthy and improving David Beckham; that is not a bad front three in any league. Add into that a player like Juninho, who has shown all season that he has fantastic vision with the ball, and is a threat on the dead ball situations, and it is no surprise that the Galaxy are tied for the most goals scored on the season.
With those players handling the bulk of the attacking movements, LA’s trio of hard-working and versatile midfielders, Chris Birchall, Dema Kovalenko and Michael Stephens are left to do the dirty work. Those three players understand their roles perfectly and are adept at filling in the gaps to help snuff out opposing attacks while also starting LA’s, no matter who is on the field.
Bottom line - the Galaxy have the chance to take a big step forward with a win on Saturday. It would also allow Bruce Arena to potentially rest a few bodies for the season finale against FC Dallas and at the same time get a look at some of the depth on the bench. That is not to say that LA would be throwing the points away, but I would expect them to be a bit looser bunch with the Supporters’ Shield already assured. It is a fantastic opportunity for the Galaxy to put a bow on the body of work that is their 2010 regular season - even with a game still left on the schedule.
I mentioned Ricketts getting his name in the record books already, but another shutout would give the Jamaican the club record for the most in a single season, passing Kevin Hartman. Plus it might put the second year keeper in a great frame of mind heading to the postseason. If he gets that in a Galaxy win, I would think that Josh Saunders would get the start in the season finale against Dallas.
Rapids’ forwards Conor Casey and Omar Cummings will be a handful in this match. LA has to be ready for the track meet with Cummings’ speed and the physical, yet still technical game of Casey. Omar Gonzalez will be in for a long 90 minutes.
Last week I urged those that read this column on a regular basis to get out there and get some people into the HDC for these final two matches. I would like to take the credit for the fact that the Galaxy is opening up the grass berm for general admission for Saturday’s game. Not sure if there is a correlation between my words and the number of ticket sales, but hey, why not! Well done!! I look forward to seeing a few familiar faces and a couple of new ones too. It is almost as if the playoffs begin now!