It's Rivalry Week, folks, and with the Guadalajara umbilical cord finally cut, it seems like we have two teams legitimately based in Los Angeles. Well, OK, Carson.
The Galaxy have had a relatively slow start to the season, but with a week off, they've been given ample opportunities to regain composure and plan for Sunday's encounter against Chivas USA.
Scouting Report: Los Angeles Galaxy
The Keane and Donovan Connection - As the premier attacking tandem in MLS, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan's ability to play off each other in the attack keeps defenses guessing and is what makes the Galaxy offense so prolific.
So far this season, Donovan has yet to play up top in his traditional forward role, but instead has served more of a game manager role on the left wing and atop the diamond midfield. He's still stuck at 134 goals, one short of sole possession of the MLS scoring record, so Chivas doesn't want to be tied to yet another Galaxy milestone. Keane, on the other hand, has pushed his influence in every game and can make defenses pay. His long shot accuracy keeps defenses honest and his ability to draw double teams opens up opportunities for others.
They've both had their way with the Goats in the past, but then again, who hasn't? Keane has four goals and an assist in five games against CUSA, while Donovan's stats blow that out of the water with his 14 goals and 14 assists in 25 total games.
Attack, Attack, Attack - There's no hiding that the Galaxy are a team with a very dynamic attack. They like to come at you from all aspects of the game: up the middle, down the wings, counters, long shots, crosses, through balls, you name it. They currently lead the league in average shots per game (15) and hold their high possession game in the opponent's side of the field, maintaining high pressure with the hopes of quickly recovering possession once lost. It's not a matter of stopping this machine altogether, but finding a way to contain it.
Samuel - Aside from the Keane/Donovan connection, the addition of Brazilian loanee Samuel might have given the Galaxy a dangerous trifecta of attacking talent. Samuel has done a good job filling the role of a physical target forward, slowing the attack to create for others, and his patience and vision makes him one of more accurate passers on the club. That second forward slot next to to Keane is still up in the air with Rob Friend's good start to the season, but in my opinion Samuel brings more to the club and the position should be his to lose.
Defense, The (Relative) Weak Point - Despite having one of the league's best center backs in Omar Gonzalez and being able to do a decent job containing the RSL attack in their first two games, the Galaxy defense has been unable to click so far this season. Lapses in communication and positional awareness has led to lots of ball chasing and defensive marking issues.
The injury bug has complicated matters. James Riley's out for 6 months due to a left lateral meniscus tear and won't be making his CUSA homecoming. AJ DeLaGarza injured his left ankle against RSL and is questionable for Sunday. That leaves the likes of Dan Gargan, Todd Dunivant (who has battled a preseason hamstring injury of his own), and the inconsistency of Leonardo, who tends to lose focus in critical moments. It'll be interesting to see the backline Bruce Arena goes with this Sunday.
Scoring Issues - Don't be fooled by the lack of scoring and the fact that their lone goal on the season has come off a counter. The Galaxy have had their fair share of scoring opportunities, but just haven't been able to convert. It's a whole different animal than we saw against NYRB - the Red Bulls played and danced with possession and couldn't find opportunities to take shots. LAG on the other hand, dominates possession, can get those opportunities, and will shoot at will until they score. They have just fallen victim to a number of near misses and a bit of Nick Rimando magic.
Wacky Scheduling - Not necessarily a weakness, but the early season schedule may have had an effect on the Galaxy. They've played lots of back to backs against similar talent (first two games against RSL, and after Sunday's game against CUSA, will follow that up with a home and away against VAN). They've also had CONCACAF Champions League to worry about but have since been eliminated by Tijuana. On the bright side, they've been resting at home for the past two weeks, giving them a chance to rest, heal injuries, and prepare for Chivas.
Donovan and Gonzalez both featured for the USMNT on Wednesday, but are conveniently playing only a few hours away in Arizona. They both should be available for a full 90 on Sunday.
Keys to the Game
Make the Game Ugly - These LA Clasico games are usually filled with fouls and while some of us want to believe that stems from a genuine animosity for a rival (think Jesse Marsch and Alex Zotinca), most of them are the product of trying to slow the game down and disrupt the attack. Both CUSA and the Galaxy are among the league leaders in fouls and this trend could potentially result in a ugly game, something that falls in CUSA's favor. This is the type of game where a midfield destroyer could've been crucial and Oswaldo Minda's services would've been of good use. He was supposedly close to playing against NY, so another week of rest could lend to a greater chance of his availability. I worry that Cabrera will once again plug in the attack-minded McNamara and/or Alvarez in the central midfield, allowing the Galaxy to easily dominate the flow of the game.
Disrupt Keane/Donovan, Contain Zardes - Disrupting the Keane/Donovan connection is the obvious task and CUSA's backline will have their hands full with that one. The dark horse here is Gyasi Zardes. CUSA has been exploited against speedy wingers with plenty of ball skill (Fabian Castillo, Kekuta Manneh, Lloyd Sam) and a player of Zardes' quality fits that bill. He's the type of player that'll cough up the ball when played physically, but if given space, he'll run right past you. Of course, this is all assuming Zardes gets the start.
Improve Possession, Advance as a Unit - CUSA needs to do a much better job with possession and the only time they won the possession battle was against Chicago, a team with a poorer possession rate. It hasn't been an easy task considering the other teams they've faced so far all rank among the best in the league (NY leads the league with 57.3 percent, and Vancouver, FCD, and the Galaxy are all in the top 10.) The backline and midfield must do a better job of keeping possesion out of the back and advancing effectively as a unit.
Try and Keep the Score Within Range - It's almost certain that the Galaxy will dominate possession, but lucky for CUSA, LAG's M*A*S*H* unit of a defense has had their share of mental lapses. CUSA has proven that it can score against the run of play and Cubo's skill in creating solid counters could prove to be pivotal. His chemistry with Mauro Rosales make the Goats capable of taking advantage of any potential opportunities the Galaxy give them.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!