So, they meet again.
With the Western Conference title on the line, the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake will clash in a massive game this Sunday at The Home Depot Center. Expect a wild affair on all fronts. The two conference rivals last clashed in the playoffs at MLS Cup 2009 in Seattle, and will now play for a ticket to enter this year’s title game on November 20. This opportunity is what guys from both sides have been playing for over the course of the last eight months, and if you are a fan of this league, you couldn’t have asked for a more enticing matchup.
Admittedly, there were some nervous moments in that second leg against New York. Most notably, in the first five minutes of the game when New York had already taken the lead. But Mike Magee came to the rescue once again, delivering another crucial goal for LA and giving the Galaxy a much-needed boost in momentum before the teams went to the locker room at the half. At 27-years-old, this is probably the best season of Mike Magee’s career, and I don’t think that the kid is done yet.
The return of Juninho should be a major boost for LA in this game, not to take anything away from Chris Birchall, who had an incredible game on Thursday. The Trinidad & Tobago international is back to the form we saw from him in the early part of the season, and consequently Bruce Arena has another fantastic option to look to should Juninho or Beckham need to come out of Sunday’s game at some point.
As far as Juninho goes, what the young Brazilian does doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet, but his contributions this season have far exceeded his stature. Arena will need another strong performance from “Juni” in the midfield this week. His ability to break things up in the midfield and cover so much ground will be essential against Salt Lake, because the midfield is the strength of Jason Kreis’ team. Think about the matchups in midfield for a moment, the Galaxy-quartet of Beckham-Juninho-Donovan-Magee against Salt Lake’s foursome of Morales-Beckerman-Johnson-Williams - that’s eight big time players who can all produce in big moments.
For as strong as their midfield is, Real’s defense could be without some major pieces for a second straight game. Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers are both suffering from quad injuries that kept them out of action in the second leg against Seattle. If you watched that second leg, you probably saw how shaky things got in the second half, as the Sounders brought waves of attacks forward and made the game exciting right up until the final whistle. If both Olave and Borchers cannot go on Sunday, we can expect the Galaxy to take a page from Seattle’s playbook and put RSL under serious pressure. My gut says that one of the two star center backs for RSL will play, just not quite certain which of the two it will be.
Getting back to the Galaxy, though, one player that will need to play a big role on Sunday is Landon Donovan. I know he had the game-winning goal in the last match, but the Galaxy Captain has to do more at the offensive end of the field. His tracking defensively was great against New York, but Donovan has to have more of an impact on the other side of the field. Particularly in this game against RSL, Donovan’s speed and the way he can run at defenders with the ball can be a game changer. Galaxy fans have watched Donovan score goals in bunches before, so the hope is that Thursday’s penalty might open the floodgates for him to get a few more.
Sunday’s game also provides another opportunity for The Home Depot Center to come alive. With a win, we all will get the chance to do something that the Galaxy have been wanting to do for a long time, play in an MLS Cup at home. I was in attendance in 2008 when Columbus defeated New York on a brisk November day. It was exciting to attend the pinnacle game of MLS and see two teams fighting for the right to be crowned champion, the atmosphere would rise to a whole different level if the Galaxy were involved. The chance to see the ACB, the Riot Squad, the Galaxians and numerous other fans dressed in Galaxy colors and singing at a fever pitch could be a once in a lifetime moment. One more hurdle to overcome, and that moment will be sitting in front of us for all to enjoy.
I for one am ready for that, are you?
The Galaxy will face Real Salt Lake on Sunday, November 6 at 6pm PT in the Western Conference Championship at The Home Depot Center. Tickets are on sale now! BUY NOW