Last week on this very same page I said that the playoff run for the Galaxy was underway, due to the fact that there was so much to play for against the Colorado Rapids. By that logic the Galaxy are now down a game in the home and home first round of the 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Fortunately for LA, that was the penultimate game of the regular season, and now the team will get some thing that doesn’t come around too often in sports, a do-over so to speak. The task really is a simple one – beat FC Dallas on your home turf and LA will earn the #1 seed in the West and clinch the Supporters’ Shield for the third time in team history. Yes a draw in the match, and consequently a point would also do the trick, but in my eyes it has to be a win.
Normally this is where I would talk about the Galaxy opponent for the match and give you a couple of things to keep your eyes out for in the game. I will list a couple of brief items below in the Quick Hits section, but for this game the focus across the board has to be on the Galaxy and on the opportunity that sits in front of the team Sunday evening.
There has to be some concern if you are a Galaxy fan right now. Everyone from Bruce Arena on down has said that this team has not played its best soccer over the final third of the year. There have been flashes of the caliber of play that will be needed for the Galaxy to go deep into the postseason, but doing it on a consistent basis has been the issue.
However, all that could all be forgotten for LA if they win this final regular season game, and even a step further, if they win the game making a statement.
It was good to see Gregg Berhalter return to the starting line-up. You could see that Berhalter was still not at 100%, but the Galaxy need the veteran to work himself back to 90-95% if they are to have a shot at getting back to the MLS Cup. Still there is concern though, as one veteran defender returned to the line-up, another was not available. Todd Dunivant was kept out of the loss to the Rapids with an adductor strain, though I’m told that it was only a precautionary move. Let’s hope that is indeed the case. The Galaxy needs to have the back four of Franklin, Gonzalez, Berhalter and Dunivant back in tact and firing on all cylinders for the playoffs. The game against Dallas is an opportunity for those players to gel once again and get some rhythm going into the second season. FC Dallas have the attacking pieces that LA’s defense needs to prove it can handle at this point in the season.
I’m one of those people that believe that timing is everything and in the case of Chris Birchall, the timing could not have been worse. Just when Birchall is starting to find himself back in the line-up and playing really well, a hard challenge by the Rapids’ Conor Casey forces him back to the sidelines with a calf injury. I have mentioned it in this column a couple of times, as well as in the FSN broadcasts, the fact that Birchall and Michael Stephens do so much work that really doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. But make no mistake about it; it is invaluable to the Galaxy success. Yes there are other players like Eddie Lewis and Dema Kovalenko that can step in and play similar roles for LA, but the difference is that Birchall has been a more consistent piece this year than Lewis or Kovalenko. Chris Birchall has started 23 games this year; Lewis and Kovalenko have combined to start eight games. I said that continuity is needed in defense and the same can be said about the midfield.
Lastly, let’s talk about the play in the final third of the field. Edson Buddle appears to have found his magic touch again. Buddle is not only looking dangerous and confidant on the ball, but his work rate is back up to where LA needs it. When Buddle is active, it creates open spaces for other to run into, due to the fact that a defender must always follow him when he is in the final third of the field. One player that needs to exploit that space, and for me really needs to showcase his leadership and talents is Landon Donovan. The Galaxy captain has the stats to confirm that he is having another good year in MLS, but I think the passion and killer instinct has been missing at times over the past few months. There is no question that Donovan has it, but like my comments about the back four in defense above, Donovan needs to step it up a notch or two over this final month for the Galaxy to have a shot at going deep in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Quick Hits –
If I were putting together a wish list for Sunday’s game, not only would the top of it say a Galaxy win, the second line would say a Donovan Ricketts shutout. Ricketts still has his opportunity to put his name in the Galaxy record books for the most shutouts in a single season. Currently Ricketts is level with former Galaxy netminder Kevin Hartman for the record. Hartman is in his first season with FC Dallas and possibly will return to the starting lineup, after being out with a knee injury for the past month.
Of the eight teams that will head into the MLS Cup Playoffs beginning next week, LA has earned a positive result (win or tie) the first time around against each of the eight teams, but has only earned a victory against two (Columbus & Seattle) the second time around. A win over FC Dallas would make it three.
This game is a chance for the Galaxy to make a statement to the rest of MLS that they are ready for the postseason. I have the chance to cover this league not just locally, but also on a national basis and I can tell you first hand there are plenty of critics out there that do not believe LA has what it takes to even get back to MLS Cup, let alone win it. A strong, statement-like win against Dallas will be a first step toward firing back at the critics.
Dallas has some great attacking players and one in particular has haunted the Galaxy, regardless of which team jersey he is wearing. Of course I am talking about Jeff Cunningham. Cunningham now needs one goal to pull level with D.C. United legend Jaime Moreno who scored from the penalty spot Saturday. Cunningham, along with David Ferreira, are the driving forces behind FC Dallas, and both players have given LA's defense problems in each of the last few meetings.
Finally, Chris Klein and Eddie Lewis both made official announcements this past week that they will be calling it a career after the conclusion of the playoffs. Both players have had storied careers and I can personally say it has been a treat getting to cover their play on a regular basis. For different reasons they will not be forgotten, but I can't think of a better way to send them both riding off into the sunset that giving them the opportunity to play for the MLS Cup one last time. Destiny will take care of the rest if LA reaches that game.