The Los Angeles Galaxy have been the best team in MLS since the middle of May, but keeping that run going is about to become a bit more difficult.
The club opens a stretch of four games in 12 days Saturday night with a visit to the Columbus Crew and a coach they know quite well.
The match marks Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena’s first clash with former Galaxy player and coach Gregg Berhalter, who played for Arena from 2009-11 and was labeled a player-coach in his final season.
Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, the 2009 Rookie of the Year, spent plenty of time on Arena’s back line with Berhalter.
"He was a big influence on my game. Definitely a mentor of mine," Gonzalez told the club’s official website. "He was always tough on me because he knew I could be a good player. I remember him yelling at me, sitting me down, talking to me, what things I can work on, showing me video of my touches, going over a lot of things.
"We had some great years, and I’m definitely looking forward to going to Columbus and playing against him. I just look forward to seeing him."
Alliances or not, Los Angeles (9-4-7) is out to continue an MLS-best 7-1-4 stretch since May 21. It has scored a league-high 26 goals in that time with nine coming from Gyasi Zardes, while Robbie Keane has seven goals and six assists.
Zardes and Gonzalez handled the scoring in a 2-all home draw with San Jose on Aug. 8. It was the beginning of Landon Donovan’s farewell tour after the league’s all-time leading scorer announced his retirement plans. The tour now takes to the road.
The Galaxy have gone 5-0-1 with a 10-3 scoring advantage in their past six against Columbus. The last three Los Angeles goals in the series have come from Keane, including two from the penalty spot in a 2-1 victory in the last meeting July 4, 2013.
Donovan, who will be honored in a pregame ceremony, hasn’t scored in his last eight games in Columbus, his most recent goals there coming in 2001 to give him his longest goal drought in an opposing arena.
Columbus (6-8-9) seems to have leveled its season some after struggling from the beginning of April though the middle of July. The Crew won their three March matches but went 1-7-8 in the next 16.
They’re 2-1-1 since and coming off a 3-2 home loss to Toronto last Saturday.
The Crew remain in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, but the sustained poor stretch might have them under some early pressure.
"Every game is important," defender Michael Parkhurst told the club’s official website. "It’s coming down to the end and we’re feeling a bit of a sense of urgency. We need to get points from every game."
Having a goal scorer like Federico Higuain might calm some of those nerves. The Columbus striker has scored in three straight games.
This match also marks the return of former Crew defender Robbie Rogers to the club with which he spent 2007-11 while winning the 2008 MLS Cup.