I know that I am in the majority when I say I can’t wait to see how the game unfolds at Columbus Crew Stadium on Saturday night. It really is the first marquee matchup of the young MLS season. The top teams in their respective conferences, the only two teams to have yet to taste defeat this season, and it also is the last place the Galaxy were defeated in regular season play, a 2-0 loss in late September 2009. It sets up to be an early season playoff game.
If you are wondering, the Galaxy do not have a great record at Crew Stadium, recording just one win in the venue, and that came in 2007, when goals by Kyle Martino and Troy Roberts, of all people, was enough for LA to grab the three points. Add it the 2001 MLS Cup defeat to San Jose and the 2002 Open Cup Final defeat to the Crew and the difficulty of this weekend’s task is further magnified.
The two teams are actually similar to this point in the season. In addition to both clubs being unbeaten, if you read the comments of the Crew players, they echo some of what the Galaxy players have said to me over the past few weeks. Phrases like ‘We are not playing our best soccer, but we are making the most of our chances,’ are commonplace in both locker rooms. That said, I would imagine there are a few MLS clubs out there that would argue that point.
For Columbus, they have been getting goals from set pieces, and the scoring load recently has started to come from other players outside of Guillermo Barros Schelotto. When you look at the Galaxy, they just make it difficult for opponents to score on them…period. Case in point, they have only surrendered two goals all season, and have yet to have to pick the ball out of their own net when away from The HDC. For the record, the Crew has only given up two goals in four games at home this season.
Like the Galaxy, Columbus lost two players over the past weeks to the U.S. National Team preliminary roster. But in contrast to LA, the Crew will be receiving both Robbie Rogers and Chad Marshall back for this weekend’s game as neither player was included in Bob Bradley’s 23-man final roster. It will be interesting to see what frame of mind the two are in returning to MLS play.
Speaking of Bob Bradley and the World Cup roster, huge props to Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle for making the final squad. Yes, we all knew that Landon was going to be there, but for Edson to parlay his early scoring success in MLS, into a trip to South Africa to play for the U.S., well, it is the stuff that dreams or even movies are made of. As much as Galaxy fans will miss seeing the #10 and #14 running up and down the pitch for the club over the next month, just think how exciting it will be to see those same guys wearing the Red, White and Blue in South Africa.
Let’s get back to the matchup for Saturday. The Crew has very good attacking play from wide positions on the field. Eddie Gaven, Emmanuel Ekpo and Robbie Rogers all bring the ability to face defenders and run with the ball at their feet. This translates to the Galaxy outside backs doing a lot of running, and even further they must communicate with the midfielders that will play in front of them. There will be a lot of interchange between the wide players on both sides.
Centrally, Guillermo Barros Schelotto has a free roll all over the field. It is amazing how this Argentine can still be so dangerous on the field. Let’s be honest, he is not the youngest guy out there, yet he finds space, plays magical passes to teammates, and leads the team with four goals in seven games this year. If the Galaxy can get physical with Schelotto early in the match, along with limit the number of freekick chances the Crew get in the final third of the field, it will go along way toward keeping the unbeaten run alive. On the contrary, if Schelotto is finding space to receive the ball, specifically in the midfield, he can pick apart LA’s defense with his pinpoint passing. While the Crew have plenty of other scoring options to look to on the field, Schelotto is the most dangerous individual player, and the catalyst for a Crew win.
Hope you will have the opportunity to tune in on Saturday evening on FS West. In addition to some of the points above, there will be plenty to discuss throughout the course of the match. It is possible we will uncover some answers, and some new questions might rise. At the end of the 90 minutes, I hope to still be in that majority… celebrating another Galaxy victory.