The Galaxy are still perfect after five matches in the 2010 season, well nearly perfect. Even though LA was held scoreless in their last match, a 0-0 draw at Kansas City, I think many players and fans will come away feeling that was a fair result. It was one of those draws that felt like a win.
Why you might ask? Playing on the road in horrible weather, on a slick and small field usually is an equation for disaster. Add to that, LA nearly went down a goal 15 minutes into the match, only to see Kei Kamara’s miraculous miss from six inches out. By the way, credit to the refs for staying with the play to the end and making the correct call. And I am not just saying that because I call the games for the Galaxy.
To come back to LA with a point from the match, and keep the unbeaten run going here early in the MLS season, somewhat gives you an indication of how solid this team can be.
A new opponent for the Galaxy steps onto the pitch Saturday night in the Philadelphia Union, but Galaxy fans will recognize some of the faces on the newest addition to MLS. Defensively, the Union are led by former Galaxy and Maryland standout, Danny Califf. The Galaxy selected Califf in the 2000 MLS SuperDraft and he was a force in defense for LA for several seasons, before joining the San Jose Earthquakes. In the midfield, Philly boasts Stefani Miglioranzi, whom they took in the expansion draft this past offseason. Miglioranzi originally joined the Galaxy in 2006, but made his biggest impact when he returned to the club last year helping LA during the regular season and its MLS Cup run. The final face that many fans will not only recognize but also smile to see is Venezuelan International, Alejandro Moreno. Always a fan-favorite during his time in LA, Moreno has made a few stops with other MLS clubs since he left the Galaxy, but still remains a very dangerous player around the penalty area.
At first glance this looks like a game that the Galaxy should not have a tough time with. The Union is playing their fourth road game of the season and has yet to secure a point in any of the previous three. The Galaxy is playing very good soccer, and return to their home turf where they are a perfect 3-0-0.
But, as we have seen so many times in the past, just when one might think you have it all figured out, the complete opposite happens. I don’t want to go quite as far as to call this a “trap game,” but Philadelphia Head Coach Peter Nowak is going to be pressing his side to perform, and at least earn a point from this match. After a recent Open Cup loss, Nowak even had his team out on the field running sprints after the game because he was so dissatisfied by their performance. In contrast to what I said about the Galaxy last week (and mentioned above about playing on the road) a point would be a disappointment for LA after 90 minutes this weekend.
Bruce Arena made one change to the lineup last weekend, bringing in Gregg Berhalter to replace the injured Leonardo in central defense, a move that pushed A.J. DeLaGarza to right back in place of the injured Sean Franklin. Berhalter played well under the wet conditions, but looked like he was still trying to recovery from an injury of his own, as well as regain his match fitness.
Edson Buddle was held scoreless for the first time this season, and that brings up the question of which players will take on the scoring load when the league’s leading scorer is held in check? This week Danny Califf will be physically matching up with Buddle, so it will be tough for Edson to find much room to operate.
LA needs to improve and become even more difficult to defend against on its set pieces. Yes, Edson Buddle has scored three of his seven goals with his head, but other players have had chances of their own to finish off of corner or dead ball service and been off the mark. With some of the big bodies on the Galaxy, defenses are forced to man mark inside the area and players are going to get free and find chances. It is just a matter of finishing them off.
In the absence of Dema Kovalenko, Chris Birchall is starting to find his stride. After a couple of average performances to begin the season, Birchall has not only become a regular in the starting lineup, but he has locked down the central midfield, allowing Juninho and Landon Donovan extra freedom to roam and start the attack. Birchall has also shown a willingness to shoot from distance but now has to get a few of those shots on target to challenge goalkeepers. He scored a great goal in the preseason against Puntarenas with a similar effort. Hopefully we will see the same in a regular season game soon.
In the past, the Galaxy has had a great record against expansion clubs when they welcome new teams to the HDC, winning seven of the 10 previous encounters. So, I say that we roll out the welcome mat for the Union, and be sure to let them know whose turf they are on before sending them packing back to Philadelphia after 90 minutes— still without a point from their travels.