Donovan must lift Galaxy out of slump
When the 2012 MLS Schedule was released in the off-season, one of the early picks for “MLS Cup Final Preview” was LA Galaxy’s visit to Livestrong Sporting to take on Sporting Kansas City.
A month into the MLS season, One half of that potential final looks far more certain than the other, and it isn’t the one most would have expected prior to the season.
Sporting KC enters Saturday’s showdown sporting a perfect 4-0 record, and looking every bit like the clear-cut favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in November’s MLS Cup Final.
And the LA Galaxy? The defending champions lappear to be suffering from a title hangover, struggling badly out of the gate and looking nothing like the juggernaut they were expected to be when the season began.
It’s tough to call a match a must-win in early April, but for the Galaxy, Saturday’s match presents a very important opportunity to halt an early-season skid that threatens to bury them in a difficult hole in the extremely competitive Western Conference. Three teams are already boasting 3-1 records in the West, and that isn’t even including unbeaten and surprising Vancouver at 2-0-2.
A loss to Sporting KC would drop the Galaxy to 1-3, and would raise more questions about whether LA can really cope without injured defensive leader Omar Gonzalez.
Bruce Arena couldn’t have asked for a worse opponent to face his struggling defense than Sporting KC, which is playing some of the best attacking soccer in the league. Graham Zusi is driving an attack that has been especially dangerous at home. With the forward trio of C.J. Sapong, Teal Bunbury and Kei Kamara, KC could run wild on a Galaxy back-line that has been exposed both in league play and in the team’s stunning CONCACAF Champions League loss to Toronto FC.
Working in LA’s favor is the return of Landon Donovan, who had been sidelined with a leg injury. He is just the kind of difference maker who could take some pressure off the Galaxy defense by providing a threat that forces KC to be honest defensively.
Donovan’s return won’t matter though if the Galaxy central midfield doesn’t step up its game. Juninho has played terribly to start the season and David Beckham hasn’t been the player who looked so good for the Galaxy last season. Last week’s loss to New England should serve as a wake-up call (as should Arena’s decision to pull Beckham at halftime).
The Galaxy will need to play their best game of the young season to escape Livestrong Sporting Park with any points. If they don’t find their championship form, Sporting KC could deliver a beating that leaves little doubt of which of these two teams is the real title contender in 2012.
Here is a look at this weekend’s match-ups, and a look back at last week:
LAST WEEK’S RECORD (5-4), SEASON RECORD (20-15)
New England’s win vs. the Galaxy was the upset special of Week 4, while San Jose’s win in Seattle also turned heads. D.C. United’s breakout win vs. FC Dallas was somewhat predictable, but not as easy to foresee as New York’s thrashing of Montreal.
THIS WEEKEND’S MATCHES
MONTREAL IMPACT vs. TORONTO FC
The Winless Derby pits struggling Canadian rivals Montreal and Toronto against each other. The Impact showed some improvement in Wednesday’s 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake, but their offense continues to struggle. TFC showed some great signs before collapsing in CONCACAF Champions League play vs. Santos Laguna.
Look for Toronto’s defense to rebound and for Danny Koevermans to wake up with a goal or two. Toronto FC 2, Impact 0.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS
The Crew and Red Bulls each have two wins on the season, but New York has looked far more impressive, at least based on statistics. Where Columbus has an edge is in fielding a more stable defense, and a tougher defense than the Red Bulls have faced in their recent blowout wins.
Will it be enough to stop red-hot Thierry Henry? Don’t bet on it. The Red Bulls keep rolling. Red Bulls 3, Crew 2.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. LA GALAXY
Will the real LA Galaxy please stand up? If Landon Donovan’s return isn’t enough to revive the Galaxy’s faltering attack, and if Bruce Arena can’t find a combination that works defensively, LA could be in for a long day at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Kei Kamara will look to punish Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant, who has struggled to recapture his MLS Best XI form early this season. Another struggling Galaxy veteran is Juninho, who must play well and neutralize Graham Zusi to keep the KC attack from overwhelming the shaky Galaxy defense.
Too many question marks remain for LA, who are likely to keep struggling vs. KC. Sporting KC 2, Galaxy 1.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
The two most surprising teams of the young season square off in what should be a tight defensive affair. Eric Hassli’s return from injury should help Vancouver’s offense, which hasn’t scored in two straight games, but San Jose’s defense has been downright stingy even playing against strong attacks.
The Whitecaps haven’t faced a forward quite like Chris Wondolowski yet this season, and he should be a good bet for a goal in a close win for the home team. Earthquakes 1, Whitecaps 0.
D.C. UNITED vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS
Which D.C. is the real D.C.? Is it the team that ripped apart FC Dallas, or is it the team that spent the three prior weeks struggling to generate chances?
Seattle has had success at RFK Stadium in the past, and should be motivated to have a big game after last week’s disappointing loss to San Jose. Fredy Montero has yet to really break out and this could be the game, facing a D.C. defense missing suspended centerback Brandon McDonald. Dwayne DeRosario and Osvaldo Alonso should square off in one of the weekend’s best match-ups.
This one is too close to call, and a tie seems like a good bet. D.C. United 2, Sounders 2.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. COLORADO RAPIDS
Real Salt Lake didn’t exactly look sharp in beating Montreal at mid-week, but you should expect RSL to get up for a rivalry game against Rocky Mountain Cup foes Colorado.
The Rapids are off to a good start, but their wins have come against struggling and weaker competition. Martin Rivero looked good in his Rapids debut, and his presence should create more problems for RSL, which could be without midfielders Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy.
It still won’t be enough to pull a road win in Rio Tinto. Look for RSL to wake up with a big win. Real Salt Lake 2, Rapids 0.
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. CHIVAS USA
The Timbers have played well enough to be 3-1 right now, but are instead 1-2-1 and already playing catch-up in the West. Chivas USA has boasted a very strong and tough defense, but an offense that just can’t generate chances.
Without a way to threaten the Timbers back-line, Chivas USA is doomed to fall victim to Portland’s multiple attacking weapons, including Darlington Nagbe, who is on a roll. Timbers cruise to victory. Timbers 2, Chivas USA 0.