Typically, I like to start this column by taking the LA Galaxy to task or praising them for the previous week’s performance. This week however, I am going to take a slight departure as it was not the result against San Jose that has me most impressed, but the manner in which it was earned.
What can you say about Mike Magee? The Galaxy have had some incredible performances, but there is no question that Magee’s effort IN GOAL against San Jose last week was one of a kind! Not sure where the veteran midfielder’s head was at when he stepped up and volunteered to replace Josh Saunders, but it did the trick, and LA escaped with a point and extended their unbeaten run to 10.
What he did over the course of that game was incredible and just goes to show the type of spirit and camaraderie that has been built within this team. I fully expect that point gained at Buck Shaw Stadium to prove to be important at the end of the season when the final standings are decoded.
As for the Josh Saunders part of the equation, my tone will change. Several people have asked me my opinion of what went down between Saunders and Steven Lenhart late in the first half. In fact, I even had this conversation with some of the guys that call/cover the Sounders on a weekly basis, and surprisingly we agreed. Referee Juan Guzman could easily have showed both players a yellow card, and been done with it. I don’t think too many folks would have batted an eye, had that been the decision. If you see the replay a second time, watch where Saunders is looking when Lenhart tries to come in for the ball, after he had nudged it to the ground. I would use the analogy of how a power forward boxes out an opponent to take a rebound in basketball. You have a general idea of where the opposing player is, but your eye is focused on the ball. To some this may sound like a homer call, but that is the way I saw it.
Moving on to the match-up with Seattle. The Sounders are on quite a run of their own, now unbeaten in their last six MLS matches and having won three straight. Seems that Sigi Schmid has found a regular nucleus of players to look to, and some of the names will be new to Galaxy fans. Former River Plate man, Mauro Rosales is getting comfortable in Schmid’s system, playing mostly in the midfield, but recently filling in up front for Fredy Montero. Montero is having a modest year (3 goals, 4 assists), so fellow South American Alvaro Fernandez has picked up some of the slack with four goals in 2011. Defensively, the Rave Green have been good, allowing just 18 goals in 19 matches and recording five shutouts during that time. Kasey Keller remains the consistent factor in goal, with Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Jeff Parke making most of the starts in central defense. That trio gives Seattle a wealth of experience in the heart of their defense.
Looking at the Galaxy, I believe the return of Landon Donovan is the bigger story than the fact that Brian Perk will make his MLS debut. I have watched Perk in goal during several training sessions and I will be the first to tell you that Galaxy fans should feel very comfortable with the former UCLA Bruin coming in to make the start. Perk was in goal on Tuesday night in the U.S. Open Cup match and helped LA earn a 2-1 victory over the L.A. Blues. More importantly, Perk received some important minutes with some of the guys that will lineup in front of him Monday. Defenders A.J. DeLaGarza, Gregg Berhalter, Omar Gonzalez and Sean Franklin all played 90 minutes on Tuesday and could be called again against the Sounders.
Back to the return of Landon Donovan. I expect the Galaxy captain to return focused and motivated. I know it was not said publically, but I have heard rumblings that fans and media question if Donovan is still one of the U.S. National Team’s elite players, following his minutes in the Gold Cup. A perfect way to answer such criticism would be to return and immediately add to the eight-goal total he has in MLS.
As for the match itself, I expect a very tight contest. I eluded to it at the top, Seattle is in good form, just as the Galaxy are. A good start in the opening 15 minutes will give you a pretty indication of how the match will go. Seattle likes to start fast, and they are capable of finishing even stronger. Nearly a third of the 25 goals for the Sounders have come in the final 15 minutes, so it will be equally important for LA to be confident and comfortable when that time arrives. In the attack, Donovan can make his presence felt the most. His ability to put defenders off balance and then find an open Angel, Barrett or Lopez with the killer pass can be the determining factor for the Galaxy.