LA GALAXY vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
August 23rd, 7:30pm at StubHub Centre (TSN2)
Los Angeles: 37pts (10W-5L-7D, 4th in Western Conference, 6th Overall)
Vancouver: 33pts (7W-4L-12D, 5th in Western Conference, 7th Overall)
Saturday marks Vancouver's turn to participate in the "Farewell to Landycakes Sideshow" also known as the over-hyped remaining days of Landon Donovan 's professional career. I could recognize Donovan's contributions to American soccer both at the club and country level in a distinguished career that saw him win nearly everything there was to win, but I'm not going to because screw him. I'm Canadian, he's American and if I'm going to get all misty-eyed about the poster children of other footballing nations it's because I'm senile, not because they deserve it.
Sorry, I seem to have lost my train of thought for a second there. Ah, right - a crucial 4th-vs-5th line-up takes place this Saturday in California. On the surface, it's a doozy as Vancouver looks to even up the season series between the two teams (LA won the opener 1-0 at home before drawing 2-2 the following week in BC Place) and add a sliver of breathing room between themselves and the pack of teams just outside the playoffs. It's every bit the six-pointer and the knee-jerk reaction from many fans, myself included, is to see Vancouver's opponent is the Galaxy and resign to an expected loss.
Hang on just a minute, though. This supposed juggernaut of a team had to come from behind to beat the Colorado Rapids 4-3 earlier in the week after going down 3-1 in the first half. Go back a week earlier and the Columbus Crew shellacked the supposedly mighty Galaxy to the tune of 4-1. A week before that, the barely-better-than-Chivas-USA San Jose Earthquakes held LA to a 2-2 draw. That latter match was even a home game for the Galaxy, which you would think should be money in the bank for the Los Angeles faithful. The point I'm trying to make here is that the LA Galaxy are not impervious to harm; they are mortal, exploitable and definitely beatable.
First, you have a Galaxy group that had to go all-out midweek to get a win in Colorado at altitude. I don't care who you are, trying to come back from a two-goal deficit in the Rocky Mountain air is going to take a toll on your body. The Galaxy didn't skimp on personnel for that win, either, fielding a first-choice starting eleven and only bringing on subs in the late stages of the game. Second, while Los Angeles' 26 goals conceded is three fewer than Vancouver's 29, the Galaxy defense has been porous in recent times. In their last six matches, the Los Angeles defence has conceded 12 goals for an average of 2.00 per game. In their previous sixteen matches, they conceded 14 goals - an average of 1.14 per game. That has to be a worrying trend for Bruce Arena and a great reason for optimism for Carl Robinson. Third, it would appear Gregg Berhalter is on to something: give Landon Donovan some chintzy memorabilia and Landycakes breaks down into waterworks. Maybe Robbo can send Carl Valentine over to the closest Rite-Aid for some flowers and a thank you card before kick-off, thereby ensuring Donovan will be a blubbering wreck by the time the starting whistle is blown.
...all right, fine, it's not going to be that easy. Both David Ousted and Pedro Morales may be less than 100% as they nurse minor knocks and strains of their own. Gershon Koffie is still, according to Robbo, "day-to-day" with an ankle injury. Perhaps the biggest hindrance to the 'Caps chances, though, is the loss of Matias Laba to yellow card accumulation. Without the Argentine anchoring the midfield in front of the backline, some tactical shifting will no doubt be required to not only contain the LA midfield but start the counter-attack. This probably means we'll see Russell Teibert in a holding midfield role again, though whether or not he has someone beside him remains to be seen.
Once other piece of personnel news from Upper Cascadia: Vancouver's two newest players, Kendall Waston and Mauro Rosales, may see time in the starting eighteen. Of the two, Rosales is more likely to see the pitch as he's easily more match fit and MLS acclimatized than Waston.
PREDICTION: 1-1 and a ton of gushing over Donovan by the LA broadcast team.