Philadelphia traveled directly from Houston to Los Angeles this weekend, a short turnaround ahead of Wednesday night’s game against the Galaxy.
The Union lost to the Dynamo 2-1 on Saturday night, after Brian Ching converted a controversial penalty kick with just 10 minutes left to play.
Bruce Arena’s Galaxy are coming off a 4-3 weekend loss in San Jose. The LA defense fell apart in the second half, and the Earthquakes came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the California Clasico. LA’s three-game winning streak was snapped.
Philadelphia are 0-3-1 all-time against the Galaxy. LA scored a set piece goal en route to a 1-0 shutout at the Home Depot Center last year. The return trip at PPL Park played out to a 1-1 draw with a late equalizer from Danny Mwanga.
David Beckham will not play in this match. The Englishman is serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation. A frustrated Beckham kicked a ball at San Jose players during a late game delay on Saturday night, inciting a shoving match that continued beyond the final whistle.
As a result, someone else will have to provide service for forwards Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane. LA was successful during the three-game winning streak using Donovan and Keane as a strike tandem. In prior matches, Donovan had played on the wing, with Keane pairing either Edson Buddle or Chad Barrett higher up the field. The tactical shift of pushing Donovan forward has helped LA score 10 goals in the last four games.
The likely candidate to replace Beckham is Marcelo Sarvas. The former teammate of Porfirio Lopez at Alajuelense, Sarvas has played minutes in the central midfield this season.
Arena then has the option of using Mike Magee in his typical wide role, with Michael Stephens, Hector Jimenez and former Union midfielder Kyle Nakazawa as possibilities on the other wing.
Incredibly stingy during last year’s title run, the Galaxy defense has struggled this year. They may, however, get a boost from the return of Omar Gonzalez, who was activated from the disabled list this week after tearing his ACL in January. It remains to be seen how the Galaxy will utilize the 2011 MLS Defender of the Year.
With Gonzalez out, Arena had settled on a first choice pairing of A.J. DeLaGarza and David Junior Lopes in central defense. DeLaGarza was a linchpin on the LA backline last year, while Lopes was acquired from Chivas USA to fill the void left by Gonzalez.
Fullbacks Todd Dunivant and Sean Franklin are familiar faces on the backline. Dunivant has been a regular starter on the left side for several years now. Franklin has played both fullback and midfield on the right flank.
Defensive midfielder Juninho will shield the LA backline. The Brazilian was able to return to LA this year after his loan from Sao Paulo expired. He’s a mobile midfielder in the mold of an Osvaldo Alonso or Kyle Beckerman. He’s mostly a defensive-minded ball winner and distributor, but does have a good long distance shot and possesses attacking capabilities.
First choice goalkeeper Josh Saunders only recently returned to action. The Galaxy netminder missed time after checking into rehab for undisclosed reasons.
Keys to the Game
The LA defense has under-performed for much of this season. Even as the Galaxy scored three road goals on Saturday night, the defense failed to assert itself, giving up three straight second half goals to rival San Jose.
The absence of Beckham obviously dampens the Los Angeles set piece and corner kick threat. Landon Donovan is likely to take the free kicks for the Galaxy on Wednesday.
And while Beckham’s suspension does hurt the Galaxy, it also changes the dynamic of the game. LA tends to play differently when not channeling the attack exclusively through Beckham. The Galaxy become less of a “long ball” club and revert to a more team-oriented passing game without Beckham on the field. There have been times over the years where Beckham drops incredibly deep into the midfield to collect the ball and distribute to the forwards. That won’t happen if Sarvas plays in his place.
Philadelphia created a number of chances against Houston on Saturday, but could only come up with one goal. Union interim manager John Hackworth wants his team to finish better, and repeat the performances put forth in the 4-0 and 5-2 wins over Kansas City and Harrisburg, respectively. Philadelphia’s defense has played consistently throughout the season and will need to continue to play at a high level to deal with Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
Preview: Union at Galaxy