MLS WEEK 28: Galaxy needs win in first Philly trip
Against all odds, given their up-and-mostly-down form of the past four months, the L.A. Galaxy have held onto the top spot in Major League Soccer's Western Conference and Supporters' Shield races, and they're just three weekends away from a trophy -- or "shield" -- and home-field advantage through the Nov. 21 MLS Cup final in Toronto.
With Real Salt Lake -- and FC Dallas, and the New York Red Bulls, and maybe even the Columbus Crew -- within striking distance, Thursday night's clash at Philadelphia (on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes) is critical for the Galaxy.
RSL has overtaken L.A. three times, never for more than 48 hours, and the Utahns would surge ahead again with a victory in the week's marquee match at New York if the Galaxy has a letdown following Sunday's emotional SuperClasico victory over Chivas USA.
It's L.A.'s first visit to expansion Philly, and the Union (and their fans) are primed to pull off an upset.
"There will be extra buzz," Union forward Nick Zimmerman told the club's Web site. "Hey, it’s Beckham, Donovan and all that goes along with it."
"This is a game you want to win badly," said Mission Viejo's Jordan Harvey, a defender who played at UCLA. "We’re playing a great opponent. We’re a very confident club, and we’ll come out ready and prepared to play. It’s the kind of game you want to be in. We’re all looking forward to it."
So is the Galaxy.
"We realize with how close Real Salt Lake are that we have to keep going," Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said this week. "There's only three games left. We know Real Salt Lake has a difficult schedule. We have three very good games coming up, but if we can continue to build an advantage in the standings, that’s what were hoping for. ...
"Ideally, it wouldn’t have to come down to the last week. Ideally, we'd have it wrapped up so we can rest and get ready for the playoffs."
This week’s games:
THURSDAY, OCT 7
L.A. Galaxy (16-6-5, 53 points) at Philadelphia Union (7-11-7, 28 points), PPL Park (Chester, Pa.), 5 p.m., ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes
The Galaxy look for back-to-back wins for only the second time since June 5. They’re 3-1-3 in road games against Eastern Conference foes but are 0-1-1 in such encounters after a home win. The short turnaround from Sunday’s SuperClasico triumph over Chivas USA won’t help. Defender Gregg Berhalter and midfielder Dema Kovalenko didn’t make the trip, and defender Yohance Marshall is off with Trinidad & Tobago’s national team, his first international call-up. Expansion Philly has been eliminated from the playoff race, but the Union is 5-1-5 at PPL Park and have a legitimate MVP contender in Sebastien Le Toux (13 goals, 10 assists). They’ve also got a lot of SoCal players: defenders Danny Califf (Orange/Orange HS), Jordan Harvey (Mission Viejo/Capistrano Valley HS and UCLA) and Michael Orozco (Orange/Magnolia HS), midfielders Kyle Nakazawa (Palos Verdes Estates/Peninsula HS and UCLA) and Amobi Okugo (UCLA), and goalkeeper Chris Seitz (Thousand Oaks HS).
FRIDAY, OCT. 8
Columbus Crew (13-7-7, 46 points) at Chicago Fire (7-11-8, 29 points), Toyota Park (Bridgeview, lll.), 6 p.m., MLS Direct Kick
The Crew is skidding at the worst possible time, just like last year, when they won the Supporters' Shield but had little left at the end, winning just one of seven games -- all competitions -- from Oct. 1 on. Columbus has clinched a playoff berth but has no wins in its last five games against MLS opposition -- it's lost its hold on the Eastern Conference lead -- and is coming off a loss to Seattle in U.S. Open Cup final Tuesday. And forward Emilio Renteria is off with Venezuela's national team. The Fire's postseason chances will be dead with a loss or tie, and their form hasn't exactly been good. Yes, a 3-0 upset at San Jose last week halted a seven-game winless streak, but they followed that with a 3-0 loss at FC Dallas. At least they're getting healthy. Forward Nery Castillo, who has missed three games with a hamstring injury, and Gonzalo Segares, out two games with a leg injury, are back, and Baggio Husidic has returned to training after missing two games with a quad strain. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson, a Rookie of the Year candidate, is out with an eye injury suffered in practice Tuesday, and John Thorrington (Palos Verdes Estates/Chadwick School) is uncertain after a quad injury against San Jose.
SATURDAY, OCT. 9
Real Salt Lake (14-4-9, 51 points) at New York Red Bulls (14-8-5, 47 points), Red Bull Arena (Harrison, N.J.), 1 p.m., TeleFutura (KFTR/Channel 46)
A preview of next month's MLS Cup final? Don't bet against it. Real Salt Lake is 14-1-8 since back-to-back losses to the Galaxy and Columbus way back in April and lead the league in scoring (41 goals) and defense (18). And Javier Morales' return from injury bolsters that attack, especially on set pieces, from which the Utahns have scored 13 times. The Red Bulls are a different team since the arrivals of Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez, and Marquez could be back from a minor knee injury that sidelined him in last week's win over K.C. New York will be without reigning MLS Player of the Week Bouna Coundoul, who is off with Senegal's national team -- Greg Sutton will start in the nets -- and in-form speedster Dane Richards, who has duty with Jamaica's Reggae Boyz. The Bulls hold a one-point edge on Columbus in the East, and RSL is just two points behind the Galaxy in the West, so both are battling for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Colorado Rapids (11-8-8, 41 points) at FC Dallas (12-2-13, 49 points), Pizza Hut Park (Frisco, Texas), 1 p.m., MLS Direct Kick
One more result, win or tie, and FCD will have the single-season unbeaten streak all to itself. The Hoops haven't lost in their last 18 -- 19 including a 2-2 draw with Inter Milan in August -- and are within four points of the Galaxy in the Western Conference and Supporters' Shield standings. And the last few results have been with a missing spine: goalkeeper Kevin Hartman (right MCL sprain), central defenders Ugo Ihemelu (concussion) and George John (hamstring strain) and midfield leader Daniel Hernandez (hamstring strain) have been out for varying lengths, and only John is expected back -- but he's been expected back the past three games without being cleared. Also missing: winger Brek Shea and left back Heath Pearce, the only MLS players called up for the U.S. national team's games Saturday against Poland and Tuesday against Colombia. The Rapids are on the verge of a playoff berth, but they've not won in their past eight road games and are coming off a 1-0 loss to D.C. United. Omar Cummings, the September Player of the Month for MLS, was given the night off -- he had six goals in the previous six games.
San Jose Earthquakes (11-8-7, 40 points) at D.C. United (6-18-3, 21 points), RFK Stadium (Washington), 4:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick
One more win should be enough for the Earthquakes to nail down their first postseason berth since the club's restoration three seasons ago, but their lack of consistent scoring has to be worrisome. They were shutout twice last week -- a 3-0 home loss to Chicago and a 0-0 draw at Columbus -- and have scored more than once in just two of their last 11 games, and a Chris Wondolowski hat trick covered one of them. The Quakes will be a little thin, too, with Arturo Alvarez (El Salvador), Ryan Johnson (Jamaica) and Cornell Glen (Trinidad & Tobago) off on international duty. D.C. has three shutout wins in its past seven games, which speaks volumes about former captain Ben Olsen's impact as interim coach. And -- we're firm on this -- teen winger Andy Najar is the league's most exciting player.
Seattle Sounders FC (12-9-6, 42 points) at Kansas City Wizards (9-11-6, 33 points), CommunityAmerica Ballpark (Kansas City, Kan.), 5:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick
The Sounders are flying high, with four straight wins (in all competitions) capped with Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup title-game triumph over Columbus. All they need here is a draw to clinch a playoff berth, but they'll have to do so without the past week's hero, Sanna Nyassi, who scored the would-be winner against Toronto FC last week and both goals in the Open Cup win. He's with Gambia's national team this weekend, along with twin brother Sainey, the New England Revolution winger. Seattle's in great form, and MVP candidate Fredy Montero is expected to top MLS's Web site's "24 Under 24" list of the best young players in the league. (They've counted down to No. 3, D.C.'s Andy Najar.) The Wizards are seven games out of playoff range with four games to go, and a loss could finish them off. They've surrendered early goals the last three games, losing the last two (to good competition: FC Dallas and New York) after a 6-1-3 run the previous 10.
Toronto FC (8-12-7, 31 points) at Chivas USA (7-15-4, 25 points), Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Espaņol
The Goats were ousted from the playoff race in Sunday's SuperClasico loss to the Galaxy, and here's their chance to knock the Canadians out. TFC's hopes require a miracle, especially given its recent form: just one win in the last 11 competitive games, just two in MLS road games all season. But they will have midfielders Martin Saric and Joseph Nane back, and maybe overpriced Spanish forward Mista, and defender Nana Attakora's ankle isn't as bad as feared. Chivas has lost its last three, scoring just once. Attacking problems derailed the Goats this year -- only D.C. United has scored fewer in MLS. Dario Delgado is away with Costa Rica's national team, but his partner in central defense, fellow Costa Rican Michael Umaņa, wasn't called in. A curious decision: Umaņa has been far superior.
SUNDAY, OCT. 10
New England Revolution (7-15-5, 26 points) at Houston Dynamo (7-14-6, 27 points), Robertson Stadium (Houston), 5:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick
This is a marquee game any year but this one. A rematch of the 2006 and 2007 MLS Cup finals -- both won by Houston -- features two of the first three teams eliminated from the postseason chase. The Dynamo have won just two of its last 12 games, but they've scored in the last five, so they've got that going for them. And the Revs are winless in the top five, but that includes 2-2 draws with Columbus and FC Dallas and a tight, 2-1 loss last week to Real Salt Lake -- three of the five best teams in the league. Houston striker Brian Ching suffered a knee injury last week against Philly, but it's not the season-ending meniscus tear that had been feared, and he'll likely play in the last two games but probably not in this one.