Galaxy, Chivas on a roll heading into SuperClasico

July, 20, 2012
7/20/12
5:32
PM PT
CARSON -- The Galaxy and Chivas USA meet up in the second SuperClasico of the season on something of a roll, and Saturday night's showdown at Home Depot Center is clearly the most important meeting in the rivalry since L. A. captured the 2009 playoff series.

The Galaxy (8-10-3) have won five of eight games since returning in mid-June from a three-week break, and they ought not to have lost the two games they've dropped in the span. Their resurgence, following a dreadful first 2 1/2 months, is all about the big names: David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.

Chivas (6-7-5) has lost only one of its last nine league games, posted three straight shutouts -- the Rojiblancos haven't surrendered a goal in 318 minutes -- and gone 6-2-5 since mid-May, including the run to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

The rivals sit fifth and sixth in the Western Conference, separated by four points on the boundary for playoff berths, and every conference encounter can be a six-point swing.

Here's a look at the 27th SuperClasico showdown, Saturday at 7 p.m. at Home Depot Center in Carson:

CURRENT FORM: There's been a lot of good and a bit of bad in both teams' recent performances. They're getting results, but Chivas USA's attack is toothless, and the Galaxy has taken to outscoring opponents, or at least trying to, which leads to some grossly entertaining encounters.

L.A. just picked up seven points in a three-game road swing, and they've come from behind for three wins and a tie in the past month. Two Beckham goals fueled last weekend's 5-3 romp over Portland, and 18-year-old rookie Jose Villarreal, from Inglewood, came off the bench to score a terrific 87th-minute goal to deliver a 2-2 draw Wednesday night at Portland.

Reigning MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez's absence because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament has been debilitating all season. He returned to action in the July 4 loss to Philadelphia but hasn't played since, complaining of pain in his surgically repaired right knee.

Chivas is far more consistent and a lot more boring. The Rojiblancos hold onto the ball but don't do nearly enough with it, and so they've been shut out in three of their last five games. They don't give up goals, so they've lost only one of those. Last time out, on Wednesday at Home Depot Center, they beat Portland, 1-0.

WHO'S HOT: The Galaxy's big three are on fire: Beckham has scored in his last three games, four goals in all, every one of them a golazo. Donovan and Keane have five goals apiece in this month-plus run, and the combined numbers for L.A.'s Designated Players over the past eight games is 14 goals and 10 assists. In the first 13 games, it was seven and eight.

Beckham has been pretty good all season long, but he has raised his game another level since Stuart Pearce snubbed him for Great Britain's Olympic team. Donovan is the catalyst -- his pace and energy have been infectious, and he's been far more influential at forward than on the right flank, where he last played May 5.

For Chivas, it's all about defense. Dan Kennedy might be the best goalkeeper in the league -- that was true last year, too. And Danny Califf's addition in mid-May has stabilized what already was a pretty good backline.

WHO'S NOT: The Galaxy's defense has been suspect. They've already conceded 34 goals, more than in each of the past three full seasons, and have been particularly susceptible to set pieces. Even during this eight-game run, they've conceded at least two goals on five occasions, which is why they are 5-2-1 rather than 7-0-1. Goalkeeper Josh Saunders has been off his game, but he made two terrific saves to keep L.A. in the game at Vancouver. Neither A.J. DeLaGarza nor David Junior Lopes has been convincing in the middle, and Todd Dunivant exited Wednesday's game with a calf strain that leaves him doubtful for Saturday.

Chivas' problem is creating opportunities. The Rojiblancos possess capable forwards, but Juan Agudelo has been sidelined because of a knee injury and only winger Ryan Smith seems capable of consistently opening up opposing defenses. They've been shut out eight times in 18 games, scored a league-worst 12 goals (only twice have they tallied more than once), and have just one goal, Miller Bolaņos' rebound to beat Portland, in their past three matches.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Chivas is without Ecuadoran midfield anchor Oswaldo Minda, who suffered a separated shoulder in training last weekend, and his absence is massive. Nick LaBrocca and Ben Zemanski, both versatile, formed a nice partnership in the middle Wednesday to close down Portland, but the Galaxy have a lot more weaponry than does the Timbers, and chasing Beckham and Juninho -- or maybe Marcelo Sarvas -- around the field is no easy task. The Rojiblancos like to hold onto the ball; the Galaxy are willing to counter. The team that gets the most out of its midfield will have the advantage.

HISTORY LESSON: The Galaxy have dominated the Clasico -- they're 16-4-6 against Chivas, including a U.S. Open Cup win in 2005 and the 2009 playoff series -- and had gone 12 games (and 4 1/2 years) without a loss, with five straight victories, before the meeting in May. The record is a bit deceiving; only once in the past dozen games have the teams been separated by more than a goal, a 2-0 L.A. win in 2010. Donovan is the Clasico's all-time goals leader, with 10, but he last scored in 2009, the decisive strike for a 3-2 aggregate win in a Western Conference semifinal.

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