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GALAXY: Advantage: New York?

10/28/2011
The Galaxy's Landon Donovan has battled a quadriceps strain but says "body feels as good as it has since probably the first day of preseason." Jeff Gross/Getty Images

CARSON -- Thursday's preparation for the Galaxy's playoff opener wasn't impacted much by New York's victory Wednesday night, which gave L.A.'s first-round opponent a face, and a rather pretty one at that.

The details for their first-round battle with, it turns out, the Red Bulls have come into focus, but the Galaxy already was focused on what they need to do Sunday, no matter which of the three wild-card possibilities had fallen into their path.

They learned Wednesday night they're headed to Newark, for the game Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. (noon PT, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes), which might seem an advantage over waiting until Thursday. Had FC Dallas beaten the Red Bulls, the Galaxy would be facing Colorado, which beat Columbus in the second wild-card encounter.

Asked about this, whether it's better to know earlier whom you're going to face, L.A. coach Bruce Arena shook his head.

“For them?” he asked.

No, for you.

“I think it's probably more a plus for them than it is for us,” he said. “It gives them another recovery day. Nothing changes for us. Basically, I think it probably favors the Red Bull.”

Arena, a former Red Bulls coach, means New York gets one more day between games than Colorado would have. That's no help at all. Especially against a side Landon Donovan termed “the most talented team in the league, and they're playing better than anybody in the league is right now.”

New York is talented, no question. And the Bulls have been in better form the past month and a half, following a difficult campaign in which they won just once during one rough 4½-month stretch.

“Going in there is going to be a real challenge,” Donovan said. “I think they've done a good job of figuring out their weaknesses and addressing them. I think middle part of he year, defensively, they were all over the place, and now they seem to have done a really good job defending. They're hard to break down, they're hard to score against, and then when you have the talented players they have going forward, it makes it really difficult.”

Well, with a roster that features Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, Joel Lindpere, Teemu Tainio, Jan Gunnar Solli, Luke Rodgers, Dane Richards and Juan Agudelo, they really are the most talented team in the league, right?

“Besides us? Yeah, for sure,” said forward Chad Barrett.

“We've proven we're the team to beat, and we are. Is it tough to go to New York? Of course it is. Do they have a great team? Of course they do. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. We're not going in there expecting to lose at all. We're going in, we're looking to put it to them, and we're going to give them the toughest test they've had all year, for sure.”

GETTING HEALTHY: Donovan, who hasn't played in a league game since Oct. 1 while rehabbing a quadriceps strain -- he played about 20 minutes off the bench in last week's CONCACAF Champions League win at Motagua -- is expected to be back in the starting XI, whether he can go 90 or not. Of course, Arena isn't about to say that.

But Donovan says his “body feels as good as it has since probably the first day of preseason” after taking nearly 3½ weeks off. “Sometimes these [injuries] are a blessing in disguise. As painful as it is to have to watch, I'm eager now to play, my fitness is good, and as long as things keep progressing, I can play a part on Sunday.”

Robbie Keane also is training, and Arena says he's possible for Sunday -- although nobody expects him to start. Keane declined to talk Thursday, but Arena said he's “made a lot of improvement since a week ago.”

“He looks sharp, he looks fit ...,” Donovan said. “I hope he's ready to play 90 on Sunday.”

If Keane can't go, the hope is he'll be ready for the second leg next Thursday at Home Depot Center.

DEATH IN JAMAICA: Winston Griffiths, a Jamaican midfielder who spent part of the 2002 season with the Galaxy, then played with the New England Revolution and the Vancouver Whitecaps, died Sunday in Jamaica in tragic circumstances.

“He was sick for awhile,” said Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, Griffiths' former teammate with the Jamaican national team. “You never know. Even when someone is sick, you dont expect them to [die]. You expect they will recover.”

Griffiths hit the crossbar for New England with what could have been the winning shot in the 2002 MLS Cup final, which the Galaxy captured in overtime.

He played 28 times for the Reggae Boyz, and Ricketts said he had many “soccer memories” of “Fanna” Griffiths.

“We played from youth team all the way up,” Ricketts said. “We played for the same club team in Jamaica. I have many memories.”

WORTH NOTING: Attendance for Thursday's second leg has been capped at 15,000 -- it's part of an agreement with Cal State Dominguez Hills for games on school nights. ... The consensus among the Galaxy is that New York will miss Solli, the right back, who was red-carded against FC Dallas and will be suspended Sunday. “It's a huge loss for them,” Barrett said. “Solli's a great player. He has a lot of assists, he tears up the right side. ... They'll fill the gap on the right side with someone who hasn't really played [much in the position], and when they have, they haven't done great like the players [filling in for missing players] on out team have. It's a huge gap there, of course, and it's something we're going to to try to exploit.” ... Carlos Mendes is likely to step in for Solli. “I know Carlos,” Arena said. “He's a good player.” ... No word yet on whether Rodgers will be back for New York after a knee injury kept him out Thursday. “In my opinion, Rodgers is the guy who makes their team tick,” Donovan said. “If he's not on the field, it's certainly helpful for us, but my guess is that they're going to find a way to get him ready.” ... Galaxy club president Tom Payne was in the Philippines this week for a news conference announcing a Dec. 3 friendly against the Filipino national team in Manila. Three days later L.A. plays a friendly in Melbourne, and a third game -- in Jakarta, Indonesia, or Singapore -- could complete the postseason trip.