It's still Major League Soccer's marquee matchup, but this Galaxy-New York Red Bulls meeting just isn't what it might have been a month or so ago.
David Beckham and Thierry Henry are raring to go Tuesday night at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., but the star power is dimmed by the absences of Galaxy captain Landon Donovan and Irish forward Robbie Keane and the occasion is muted although both teams are playing for something important.
L.A. will clinch its second straight Supporters' Shield with a victory, and every game is must-win for the Red Bulls, which is in a fight for the final MLS postseason berth.
The game was initially slated for Aug. 27, but Hurricane Irene's impending arrival pushed it back, and it closes a hectic month for the Galaxy, which during a two-games-a-week stretch moved to within one victory of advancing to the knockout stage in the CONCACAF Champions League and to the verge of MLS's regular-season champion, two of the club's three primary goals this season.
The third, of course, is winning the MLS Cup title Nov. 20 at Home Depot Center.
Donovan did not travel to New Jersey and pulled out of the U.S. national team's friendlies Saturday against Honduras in Miami Gardens, Fla., and next Tuesday against Ecuador at Red Bull Arena after suffering a quad strain in the closing minutes of L.A.'s victory Saturday over Real Salt Lake. Keane departed Sunday to join Ireland's national team for a pair of Euro 2012 qualifiers.
L.A. (18-3-10) is 2-0-6 in MLS this season when Donovan hasn't been available because of injury or international commitments.
“You always want your best players playing, and, obviously, we have to watch with Landon, because he’s had a lot of games in the last couple of months,” Beckham told media in New Jersey on Monday. “We’ve got players who can step in and step up, because we’ve done that all season. The games we’ve had, the challenges we’ve had, when we’ve needed players to step in, they have done it. We haven’t got a problem with that.”
Michael Stephens or Paolo Cardozo are possibilities to fill Donovan's spot. Coach Bruce Arena was non-committal Monday. “The guy that’s going to replace Landon is not going to play like Landon, that’s the only thing we know,” he said.
Some combination of red-hot Chad Barrett, Adam Cristman and Miguel Lopez -- we're betting on Barrett and Cristman -- will be used up top.
New York's star-filled lineup has underachieved this season and is clinging on to the No. 10 spot, the last to make the playoffs, in the overall standings. Henry has been a consistent goal scorer for the Red Bulls (8-7-16), but chemistry has been problematic and rifts were exposed when Mexican star Rafa Marquez lashed out at teammates after fans jeered him during a Sept. 21 loss to Real Salt Lake.
Marquez's comments -- that “unfortunately, there isn't an equal level between my teammates and I” -- were greeted with a one-game suspension, and he's now teaming with Teemu Tainio in midfield rather than his usual spot in central defense. Stephen Keel and Tim Ream were paired in the back the last two games, a victory over Portland and a tie with Toronto FC.
The Galaxy, even without Donovan and Keane, will be a far tougher test.
“I was saying the other day to some of the guys that when you play against Salt Lake, you can’t have a lot of opportunities,” Henry told reporters Monday. “But when you play L.A., you do have them. But somehow they don’t concede.
“Even when they’re 1-0 down, they find a way to win, 2-1. Or if it’s 0-0, they manage to win, 1-0, right at the end. But that’s the story of a team who has played together for a very long time ... and now they’re the best and most consistent team in the league.”
WORTH NOTING: The all-time series is even, 15-15-6 (with one shootout win apiece). The Galaxy has outscored New York, 53-52. ... The first meeting this season, May 7 at Home Depot Center, was a 1-1 draw, with Henry and Donovan trading first-half goals. ... L.A. closes the regular season Oct. 16 vs. Chivas USA and Oct. 23 at Houston. ... Keane and Ireland play Friday at Andorra and Oct. 11 in Dublin against Armenia. The Irish (4-1-3) are second in Group B, two points behind Russia and one in front of Armenia and Slovakia, with two games to go. The group winner qualifies, and the No. 2 team likely goes to a playoff. ... Chris Birchall has been called in for Trinidad & Tobago's World Cup qualifier Oct. 11 vs. Barbados. He's rehabbing an injury in L.A. and won't join the Soca Warriors until after their game Friday at Bermuda. ... The Galaxy needs one more shutout to tie Kansas City's league record, 17, set over 32 games in 2000, when the Wizards won the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup trophies. ... Beckham, Omar Gonzalez and Frankie Hejduk will be suspended with their next yellow cards.
MISSING: Aside from Donovan, Keane and Birchall, central defenders Gregg Berhalter (sprained foot), Leonardo and Sean Alvarado (both torn ACLs) also remain out, as does midfielder/right back Sean Franklin (inflamed knee). ... Beckham (back spasms), midfielder Mike Magee (hamstring strain), and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts (quad tightness) remain questionable.
NEW YORK RED BULLS
Swede Hans Backe has followed an undistinguished playing career with three decades as a coach in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Greece, England and as an assistant coach with Mexico's national team. He took charge of New York last year, built a formidable lineup and won the Eastern Conference regular-season title with a 15-9-6 record before falling to San Jose in the first round of the playoffs.
Three key players
Henry is among the globe's finest attacking players of the last 20 years, a wing-forward with a superb scoring touch and a knack for creating chances for teammates. He's second in the MLS scoring race with 13 goals.
Estonian winger Joel Lindpere was a revelation when he arrived in MLS last season, and he has contributed seven goals and seven assists while making 31 starts, best on the team.
Colombian-born striker Juan Agudelo, just 18, is a burgeoning star with the U.S. national team, and his knack in front of the net has been a weapon off the bench for the Red Bulls.
Nobody else in MLS has the kind of talent the Red Bulls possess, but they've gotten not nearly enough from that talent. Wins Sept. 17 at FC Dallas and Sept. 24 over Portland were just the third and fourth victories in what is now 24 games since the end of April, a stretch that dropped them from overwhelming Eastern Conference favorite into a battle for their playoff lives. New York is 10th overall, with 40 points and two games to go, and Portland (40), D.C. United (38) and Chicago (37) are within range.
Reserve right back Chris Albright played in 130 MLS games (and won two MLS Cup titles) with the Galaxy from 2002 to 2007.
Goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul is with Senegal's national team for its African Cup of Nations qualifying finale Sunday at Mauritius. ... Albright (calf strain) and midfielders Sacir Hot and Carl Robinson (both bruised knees) are out. ... Defender Carlos Mendes (bruised ankle) is questionable.
At Red Bull Arena (Harrison, N.J.), 5 p.m. PT
TV: ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes
Radio: ESPN Deportes (KWKU-AM/1220 and KWKW-AM/1330, both Spanish)
Referee: Jair Marrufo