SUPERCLASICO: Wild week leads to this
CARSON -- Things always are a little more intense around Home Depot Center when the SuperClasico nears, but given all that's occurred this week -- on both sides -- Saturday night's showdown might provide a respite from all the madness. Imagine that.
Ninety minutes on a patch of green, no matter how heated the atmosphere, has to be simpler than everything the Galaxy and Chivas USA are going through, what with middling form, poor results, blockbuster trades, White House visits, international call-ups and the biggest star in town's jaunts across Europe carrying a flame.
It has made for hectic preparations for a match that, rivalry aside, is vital for both teams. The Galaxy are 3-5-2, have already matched last year's loss total and are looking to end a four-game winless streak while buoyed by their performance of the second half of last week's 1-1 tie at Montreal.
Chivas is 3-6-1, has scored just six goals in 10 games, given away five points by conceding end-of-game goals, and is 0-5-0 in home matches with just one goal, on a penalty kick. The Goats are the home team for the first of three meetings this season.
“It's a little different than in some years past, because we're both struggling a little bit,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan noted. “So there's probably added meaning in that way, because we both need the points.”
L.A., a preseason favorite to repeat as champion, has only 11 points, 15 behind Western Conference (and Supporters' Shield) leader Real Salt Lake and 11 out of third place. Chivas is only a point behind, but it's also only a point out of the Western cellar.
“It's an important game in a number of ways,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said. “Both teams are definitely looking for points. It's the rivalry, it's where we are in the table. There's a lot riding on this game.”
Fraser and the Chivas technical staff has been working overtime this week, engineering a pair of trades that, together, offer a major statement of purpose. They brought in 19-year-old striker Juan Agudelo, the most prized young player in America, and then to replace defender Heath Pearce -- who went to New York for Agudelo -- they acquired veteran center back Danny Califf from Philadelphia (for winger Michael Lahoud). It appears to be a move forward up front and in the back.
It will be the first Clasico for Califf, who spent his first five seasons with the Galaxy but was gone before Chivas debuted. First Clasico on the Goats side for his former L.A. teammate, former Galaxy captain Peter Vagenas, too.
“I peaked my head in [the Galaxy locker room] today and told them I'm excited,” said Vagenas, who signed with Chivas during preseason. “This is obviously a special game for me. I've never hidden my emotion for the [Galaxy] and everything that goes on there, but nobody wants to beat the Galaxy more than I do Saturday night.”
If Chivas pulls it out, there will be blame to go around.
The Galaxy didn't get a good day of practice in until Friday after trekking from Montreal to D.C. for a ceremony with President Obama honoring their MLS Cup championship. That cost them three days they could have used at home preparing for the clash.
“I think the president has killed our preparations,” Irish forward Robbie Keane joked when asked about it. “So if we lose Saturday, that's his fault.”
Or perhaps David Beckham's. He takes his ambassadorial role with the London Games pretty seriously, and so he's been off with Princess Anne and other dignitaries carting the Olympic flame from Athens to Cornwall, where the torch relay begins. He'll arrive back in L.A. just in time for the match.
Donovan's not worried about any of it. The extra time away provided bonding the team needed -- a day to scour Montreal and “an experience that not a lot of people get to do [at the White House], and we shared it together” -- and Beckham on occasion does fly off to far-away places and return just in time to play.
Unless he doesn't play. The Galaxy have games Wednesday and next weekend to complete a three-in-eight-days span, and perhaps Beckham is held out for those two. When Bruce Arena was asked if the travels might impact Beckham's availablity, his response was “Likely,” but it followed a riotous exchange on the meaning of the words “sure” and “likely,” so he might have been kidding. We'll see.
“In normal circumstances with most teams, I think [the past week] would be an issue, but this team has dealt with a lot in all different ways over the past how many different years. We'll be fine.”
Afterward, we'll see. It's Keane's last game with the Galaxy for at least a month, maybe a month and a half. He leaves Saturday for Ireland's camp in advance of the European Championship in Poland and the Ukraine and will miss from six to nine games, including as many as three U.S. Open Cup matches.
Donovan, too, is expected to depart Sunday for the U.S. camp in Orlando, Fla., in advance of three friendlies and two World Cup qualifiers. Agudelo could be traveling with him. They'd return in mid-June.
WORTH NOTING: The Galaxy lead the all-time series, 16-3-5, and are 8-0-4 in a dozen meetings since the 2008 season kicked off. The numbers include a U.S. Open Cup victory in 2005 and a win and a tie in the MLS playoffs in 2009. ... Arena is the winningest Clasico coach, at 7-0-2. Former Galaxy Steve Sampson was 6-0-0 in the rivalry. ... Chivas has won the last four and five of the last six Reserve League meetings, including a 4-2 decision April 2. ... Clasico week began in earnest Thursday afternoon, when Chivas' technical staff beat the Galaxy's in three short scrimmages. Then in the Barra Clasico on Thursday night, Chivas' front-office staff beat the Galaxy's, followed by two victories by the Galaxy's supporters groups (Riot Squad over Black Army 1850 and Angel City Brigade over Union Ultras). ... Leonardo is available for the Galaxy after he was activated Friday from the MLS Disabled List. He has been out 13 months because of torn knee ligaments. Andrew Boyens, who joined the Galaxy from Chivas in December, went on the DL and will undergo sports-hernia surgery next week. ... The Galaxy also added Keane, Edson Buddle and David Junior Lopes to the injury report. All are questionable. ...
Donovan talked this week about seeing goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who is away in MLS's substance-abuse treatment program, on Tuesday when the Galaxy visited the White House: “We all miss him a lot, and he's doing really well. It was good just to see him, but it was good to see him doing so well. I think we're all optimistic everything's going to be OK.” It also was important for Saunders to see his teammates. “It's part of integrating himself back in, because he's been pretty isolated for a few weeks now,” Donovan said. “So to have a chance to be around us and not worry about the pressure or stress of this is nice. I think it will be nice to get him back when we do.”
- INJURY REPORT
Out: D Andrew Boyens (sports hernia), D Omar Gonzalez (left ACL tear).
Questionable: F Edson Buddle (right adductor strain), F Robbie Keane (right hamstring tightness), D Leonardo (right ACL/LCL tears); D David Junior Lopes (right hamstring strain).
Out: M Marvin Iraheta (left ACL tear).
Questionable: M Ben Zemanski (right MCL sprain).
- THE GAME
Referee: Mark Geiger
TV: ESPN2 (English) and ESPN Deportes (Spanish)
Radio: K-Talk (KTLK-AM/1150, English) and ESPN Deportes (KWKW-AM/1330, Spanish)