CARSON -- The fracas that erupted at the end of the Galaxy's victory Sunday afternoon over New York will surely have an impact on Thursday's rematch at Home Depot Center. Landon Donovan's criticism of the “cheap-shot” Red Bulls that followed, not so much.
Both sides are missing influential midfielders for the second leg of the first-round playoff series after Red Bulls star Rafa Marquez was red-carded for hurling the ball at Donovan at the final whistle and Galaxy catalyst Juninho was sent off for leaping into the fray that resulted.
Their absences will alter how their teams approach the match, but the situation -- and each team's aim -- remains the same.
The Galaxy carries a 1-0 advantage into the decisive match in the home-and-home, total-goals series, so a draw or better sends them to Sunday's Western Conference title game against Real Salt Lake, also at HDC; a one-goal loss forces overtime and perhaps penalty kicks; and a two-goal defeat sends New York to Utah to play for a berth in the Nov. 20 MLS Cup final.
“We have good experience in this situation,” Donovan said following L.A.'s training session Wednesday. “We were in the exact same position last year, where we beat Seattle away, and then we came home. I think a lot of teams in that situation might have a tendency to sit back and guard the goal, but we wanted to come out and be aggressive, and we got at them early and ended the game quickly.
“In an ideal world, we could do that [Thursday], but, certainly, it's a different year and a different opponent, and it's going to be tough.”
Marquez, who has melted down in Donovan's presence before, usually in U.S.-Mexico battles, is among MLS's most talented players and probably the Red Bulls' most incisive passer. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said either offense-minded Dax McCarty or holding midfielder Stephane Auvray will team in central midfield with Teemu Tainio -- the decision has been made, no word on what it is, but McCarty appears likely.
Juninho has been a perfect foil for David Beckham, whose service is critical to the Galaxy's attack. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena says he has “three or four guys we're considering” to step in for the Brazilian youngster, and speculation is that Chris Birchall or Michael Stephens will get the call.
The incident at the end of Thursday's game prompted Donovan's postgame backlash. He deplored the Red Bulls for “disgraceful” behavior and “cheap shots,” claimed that “in all my years in this league, I've not played against a cheaper team” and said the Bills had “been doing it all year. ... I think it's part of their makeup.”
Red Bulls forward Luke Rodgers responded during a media conference call this week.
“We’re not a cheap team,” the feisty Englishman said. “We’ve already beat L.A. once. If calling a team cheap is the will to win and tackling and putting everything into the game, I don’t call it a cheap team. I call it a winning team. And in my eyes, a lot of their players were doing the same thing. One of our players [Roy Miller] has a big gash in his leg from Beckham’s tackle. No one’s complaining about it on our side. It’s football. If someone’s got a big gash in his leg, and if someone gets injured for a tackle, so what? It’s a game of football.
“I just think people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.”
Galaxy forward Robbie Keane, an Irishman with extensive English Premier League experience, agreed somewhat with Rodgers. “It's a playoff game. It happens,” he said Wednesday. “Not even in a playoff game. It's football, isn't it? It's a man's game. You have to accept it or you're gonna get kicked.”
Even Donovan got in line.
“The playoffs are intense, and it's always been that way,” he said. “The intensity goes up, the aggression goes up, and it's all part of it. ... I'm sure there's going to be some tackles and stuff, but that's all part of it.”
WORTH NOTING: Expect a more balanced attack from New York with right back Jan Gunnar Solli's return from a red-card suspension. ... The Galaxy's attendance cap for the game has been raised from 15,000 to 20,000 following negotiations between HDC and Cal State Dominguez Hills. There's an agreement in place to limit attendance on school nights, and it's all about parking. The university's primary lot on the west side of campus also is a major lot for HDC events. ... The Galaxy will be providing free parking at and running shuttles from the South Bay Pavilion, the mall south of the stadium on Avalon Boulevard in Carson, and from the Artesia Transit Center, on West 182nd Street just west of the Harbor (110) Freeway in Gardena. ... Capacity for Sunday's Western Conference final, if the Galaxy advances, will be back to 27,000. ... Galaxy defender Sean Franklin and New York forward Thierry Henry and defender Tim Ream will be suspended for the conference final if they pick up a yellow card.
MISSING: Aside from Juninho, defenders Leonardo and Sean Alvarado (both torn ACLs) are out. ... Defender/midfielder Bryan Jordan (ruptured finger tendon) has been upgraded to questionable, and Beckham (back spasms) and defender Gregg Berhalter (sprained foot) remain officially questionable.
NEW YORK RED BULLS
Swede 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 past 20 years, a wing-forward with a superb scoring touch and a knack for creating chances for teammates. He finished third in the MLS scoring race with 14 goals.
Estonian winger Joel Lindpere was a revelation when he arrived in MLS last season, and he contributed seven goals and seven assists starting all 34 games, the only Red Bull to do so.
Jamaican winger Dane Richards can destroy defenses with his speed, and he scored seven goals with seven assists. He's key to opening space for New York to implement midfield control.
The Red Bulls might have uncommon talent, but they went through difficult times this year, winning just twice during one 4½-month stretch, primarily because of shoddy defending. They've righted things in the past six weeks or so and have been in their best form since the start of the season, when they rivaled Real Salt Lake as MLS's best side.
Reserve right back Chris Albright played in 130 MLS games (and won two MLS Cup titles) with the Galaxy from 2002 to 2007. ... Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant and midfielder Mike Magee spent time with the Red Bulls. ... Arena was New York's head coach for parts of 2006 and 2007. ... McCarty's younger brother, Dustin, is a Galaxy rookie.
Aside from Marquez, Albright (calf strain), midfielder Sacir Hot (knee surgery) and midfielder Carl Robinson (bruised knee) are out. ... Rodgers (inflamed knee) and McCarty (sprained ankle) are “questionable,” but both will be available.
At Home Depot Center (Carson), 8 p.m.
TV: ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes
Radio: ESPN Deportes (KWKU-AM/1220 and KWKW-AM/1330, both Spanish)
Referee: Hilario Grajeda
POTENTIAL STARTING XI
New York: Frank Rost; Jan Gunnar Solli, Stephen Keel, Tim Ream, Roy Miller; Dane Richards, Dax McCarty, Teemu Tainio, Joel Lindpere; Luke Rodgers, Thierry Henry.
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Chris Birchall, Mike Magee; Chad Barrett, Robbie Keane.