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U.S. OPEN CUP: Can Blues shock Galaxy?

6/28/2011

One is a giant, at least in U.S. terms, with eight major trophies, the greatest of all American coaches and a star-thick roster that features the world's most recognizable athlete and the finest soccer player our country has produced. Oh, and it's on a 10-game unbeaten streak.

The other is a first-year entity, looking for its first trophy, with a coach who has worked primarily with women (with great success) and a roster that features four players who once played for the other side. And it's going through a tough spell.

What the L.A. Galaxy and L.A. Blues have in common is a city (more or less) and that both are pros. They'll face off the first time Tuesday night -- and with something at stake.

The Galaxy are overwhelming favorites in the U.S. Open Cup third-round encounter at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium, even if most of the first-line players -- David Beckham and Landon Donovan included -- aren't going to get anywhere near the field. The Blues are struggling in the third-tier USL Pro, and wins over Hollywood United and Ventura County Fusion in the first two rounds of America's oldest soccer competition, dating to 1914, isn't adequate preparation.

Blues coach Charlie Naimo has hope.

"I'm convinced we'll get a couple chances," he said after a disappointing league loss Sunday to Harrisburg. "I've got to think our players are going to have a little bit better focus in a game like that. There's some selfish tendencies in each and every player that maybe if they do well, there's a look for them [in Major League Soccer].

"I don't know [what we're capable of]. I honestly don't know. I think the Galaxy is the best team in MLS. One one hand, I'd love to have a different MLS team to play, but on the other hand, it's a great opportunity for us as a franchise to be seen. And if we can do well ... right now I can't even think about having success against the Galaxy when we can't have success against a mid-table team in the USL Pro."

The Blues' best player, Argentine midfielder Walter Gaitan, has walked out on his contract, which greatly impacts their attack. They lost to Harrisburg while resting several first-choice players -- including forward Chukwudi Chijindu, who is on loan from Galaxy archrival Chivas USA -- and are looking to send their first team against whomever Bruce Arena puts on the field for the Galaxy. Likely something akin to the group that has played in MLS Reserve League matches, a combination of top reserves and young players looking to work into the varsity rotation.

"If it's a combination of some reserve guys and some guys who can play, they're going to be very good," Naimo said. "So we'll see. We're going to prepare for the best players that we think they have available, and if they play them, that's what it is. And if they don't ... that's what it is."

The former Galaxy quartet on the Blues roster: midfielder Josh Tudela, their captain, winger Israel Sesay and defenders Mike Randolph and Leonard Griffin.

If the Galaxy advance to the July 12 quarterfinals, they would play two-time defending champion Seattle Sounders in Tukwila, Wash., or Premier Development League side Kitsap Pumas, from Bremerton, Wash., in Fullerton. The Blues would play up north if they prevail.

Tuesday's third-round schedule (in bracket order):

  • Galaxy (MLS) vs. L.A. Blues (USL Pro) at Titan Stadium, Cal State Fullerton, 7:30 p.m.

  • Kitsap Pumas (PDL) at Seattle Sounders (MLS), 7 p.m.

  • Orlando City FC (USL Pro) at FC Dallas (MLS), 6 p.m.

  • Chicago Fire Premier (PDL) at Sporting Kansas City MLS), 5:30 p.m.

  • FC New York (USL Pro) at New York Red Bulls (MLS), 5 p.m.

  • Chicago Fire (MLS) at Rochester Rhinos (USL Pro), 4:30 p.m.

  • Richmond Kickers (USL Pro) at Columbus Crew (MLS), 4:30 p.m.

  • Wilmington Hammerheads (USL Pro) at Real Salt Lake (MLS), 6 p.m.