GALAXY: Rested L.A. begins tough stretch
Hurricane Irene, Chad Barrett concedes, was “a terrible thing for the East Coast,” and he certainly doesn't mean to make light of tragedy, but when he sees the storm through a Galaxy prism, he's got a different take.
“For our legs' purposes,” the L.A. forward said this week, “it was actually a great thing.”
The Galaxy, run ragged by a schedule thick with games in two competitions, got a needed week and a half away heading into Monday's Labor Day showdown at Sporting Kansas City, a chance, Barrett said, “to take some time off, recharge our batteries.”
Major League Soccer's best team dives into the most difficult stretch of its season in K.C., the first of nine games over 30 days, the results of which will inform whether the Galaxy (14-3-9) win the Supporters' Shield and determine if they're headed to next year's CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage.
Irene was kind enough to knock out a trek to New Jersey, for last weekend's marquee match against the New York Red Bulls. That one's been rescheduled for Oct. 4, the last of these nine games, with a 12-day break to follow.
“Everyone [had the] chance to get their bodies healed again and get some quality rest and at the same time get some good trainings in and get down tactically what we need to do as a team,” said defender Frankie Hejduk, who is finally healthy after an ankle injury. “When you're consistently playing Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday, your body doesn't get the opportunity to get your proper rest. In that respect the break's really helped us.”
And now things get harder. Sporting (9-8-9) has been MLS's hottest team -- it has lost just twice in its last 18 league games; says Landon Donovan: “you could argue they're as good as any team in the league at this time” -- and on the horizon are games with Eastern Conference leader Columbus, Real Salt Lake and New York. Plus four Champions League games, three of them on the road.
“We've got obviously a lot of games coming up, so it's been good to get this rest in,” David Beckham said. “I think it's been important for certain players. We're got a tough couple months coming up. It's good we got a bit of the freshness back.”
PLAYOFF-BOUND?: The Galaxy can be first to clinch a playoff spot with a victory and losses by Houston, New York and Portland. Or a win here and Friday over Colorado.
It's not on coach Bruce Arena's mind.
“Without sounding like an idiot, I do think we've probably secured a playoff spot," he said. "It might be the 10th spot at this point, but I think that is not an issue with us.”
The goal is to repeat as Supporters' Shield winner, and they've got a pretty good lead. Seattle is only three points back, sure, but in terms of maximum points, L.A.'s 75 is two full games better than Seattle's and Real Salt Lake's 69. FC Dallas can hit 67, and Columbus can reach 64. Nobody else can go higher than 61.
WORTH NOTING: This is L.A.'s first game at Sporting's new Livestrong Sporting Park, widely thought the finest soccer-specific stadium in the U.S. ... L.A. has won four of their past five league games -- six of seven in all. ... Donovan and Sporting forward Teal Bunbury returned to their clubs after the U.S. loss Friday to Costa Rica, but only Donovan will play. Bunbury is serving a red-card suspension. ...
Forward Robbie Keane missed a should-make header and Ireland dropped to second in its European Championship qualifying group with a 0-0 home draw with Slovakia. The Irish on Tuesday meet group leader Russia in Moscow. ... Midfielder Chris Birchall went the full 90 as Trinidad & Tobago started its World Cup qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win over Bermuda. The Soca Warriors play Tuesday at Barbados. ...
A victory would make the Galaxy the only MLS team with wins in half of its games. ... L.A. leads the series, 27-20-11, with K.C. winning two of three games decided in the old shootout format. K.C. is 15-9-5 (1-1 SO) at home. ... The Galaxy won, 4-1, in mid-May at Home Depot Center, with Donovan scoring twice and Beckham and Juan Pablo Angel also tallying. ... Arena said he expected defender Gregg Berhalter to return from a foot injury by the end of September.
MISSING: Forward Robbie Keane (Ireland) and midfielder Chris Birchall (Trinidad & Tobago) are away on international duty. ... Berhalter (sprained foot) and Leonardo and Sean Alvarado (both torn ACLs) remain out. ... Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts (broken arm) officially is questionable, but he's not ready yet. ... Beckham (fractured spine) and midfielder Jovan Kirovski (sprained ankles) are questionable, but both are ready to go.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
- Peter Vermes was a forward for the U.S. at the 1990 World Cup, and he nearly made the 1998 team as a defender. He played in Hungary, Holland, Spain and with four MLS clubs, finishing his career in 2002 with the Kansas City Wizards.
Three key players
- Third-year midfielder Graham Zusi is having a breakout season, with five goals and four assists (he had one of each coming into the year) and Player of the Week/Month honors
- Mexican forward Omar Bravo, who played (and scored) in the 2006 World Cup, has brought skill, smarts and experience to Sporting's attack, scoring seven goals in 19 league games
- Midfield leader Davy Arnaud combines tremendous energy with good ideas and a shot that can make things happen. He's been out two months following sports-hernia surgery but was on K.C.'s game roster last weekend and is expected to return against L.A.
- Sporting has steadily climbed the Eastern Conference table, from the bottom (after a 1-6-3 start, entirely on the road, while awaiting the June 9 opening of their stadium) to second place -- and a victory over the Galaxy would bring the Ex-Wizards within a point of No. 1 Columbus. They've lost just twice in their past 18 league games -- both at home (they're 6-2-4 in the new park), both against top competition (Seattle and FC Dallas, which are Nos. 2 and 3, behind L.A., in the overall standings), and both in stoppage after losing the lead in the 89th or 90th minute. They've got tremendous speed, strength, size and athleticism, especially in a rather direct attack, and the return of captain Arnaud from injury can only help.
- Kei Kamara (Lawndale/Leuzinger HS) played at Cal State Dominguez Hills, on fields just a few hundred yards from the Home Depot Center field. Outside back Chance Myers (Thousand Oaks/Thousand Oaks HS and UCLA) also is a local boy. ... Midfielder Luke Sassano's rights belonged to the Galaxy for a few hours in December, when he was taken in the re-entry draft and promptly traded for Hejduk's rights.
- Bunbury is suspended. ... Kamara was away for Sierra Leone's African Cup of Nations qualifier Saturday and is unlikely to be available. ... Sassano (sprained knee), defender Daneil Cyrus (fractured foot) and rookie forward Konrad Warzycha (torn ACL) are out. ... Midfielder Craig Rocastle (sprained knee) is doubtful. ... Midfielder Birahim Diop (groin strain) is questionable. ... Midfielder Milos Stojcev (sprained ankle) is probable.
At Livestrong Sporting Park (Kansas City, Kan.), 3 p.m.
TV: Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Deportes (Replay: FSC, 8 p.m.)
Radio: ESPN Deportes (KWKW-AM/1330, Spanish)
Referee: Ricardo Salazar