Photo by ISIPhotos.com
BY KAYLA KNAPP
With a 2-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Thursday night, the Los Angeles Galaxy secured their place in the Western Conference semifinal against the San Jose Earthquakes. This matchup is sure to bring an excess of drama and thrills, because not only does it pit the reigning MLS Cup champions against the current Supporters’ Shield winners, but these two California clubs have also reignited their rivalry over the past season.
In their previous three meetings this year, the Earthquakes got the better of the Galaxy, winning twice and drawing the third. All three matches came with fierce passion, high energy, brutal physicality, a heavy dose of hostility and goals – lots of goals.
Heading into this series, both sides are suffering from several injuries. San Jose’s late-game goal-scoring hero Alan Gordon was given the day off on Friday to rest his injured ankle, while influential midfielder Simon Dawkins (also suffering from an ankle injury) joined training on Friday for the first time this week. It would be a huge boost for the head coach Frank Yallop and the Quakes if both players are healthy for Sunday.
There are a lot more question marks for Los Angeles. In Friday’s injury report, center back AJ DeLaGarza (L knee sprain) is listed as out, and Sean Franklin (L hamstring tightness) and Christian Wilhelmsson (R quad tightness) – who both sat out Thursday’s knockout round match – are listed as questionable. The positive for Bruce Arena in this situation, should all three of these players be unavailable on Sunday – the Galaxy have a deep squad this season, with several moderately experienced players able to step in if necessary.
Injuries aside, what can we expect when these two face off on Sunday and Wednesday? The Galaxy defense will have to deal with the dangerous tandem of Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and the physical Steven Lenhart. The backline will have their work cut out for them as they try to keep Lenhart from beating them in air, but also containing Wondolowski on the ground. The two strikers play perfectly off each other, a partnership that has broken down defenses time and again this season. If Los Angeles hopes to keep them off the scoreboard (or at least keep the damage minimal), the center backs (Omar Gonzalez, and likely Tommy Meyer) will have to make sure they don’t give Wondolowski any open space in the box, while keeping Lenhart in check in the air.
On the other end, the Galaxy have offensive firepower that is sure to make any opposing defense nervous – Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, David Beckham and Edson Buddle will keep the pressure up on the San Jose backline throughout the match. And of course, there is always Mike Magee, who has come through in the clutch in the playoffs, both last season and again this year. The Earthquakes backline will undoubtedly have their hands full with the Galaxy attack.
With the combined attacking players on both teams, and if their previous meetings are any indication, expect high-scoring, fast-paced matches. The biggest factor will likely be the midfield – whichever side can maintain control will dictate this two-legged series.
Also, considering their recent history, both sides must be careful and maintain composure – it’s easy for tempers to flare in heated rivalries, and an early yellow (or red) card could change the face of this series in an instant. That is easier said than done, of course.
Here is a breakdown of the Western Conference semifinal series:
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY
First leg at Home Depot Center: Sunday, 9pm PT ESPN
Second leg at Buck Shaw Stadium: Wednesday, 11pm ESPN 2
SEASON SERIES: San Jose claimed the season series, going 2-0-1 against Los Angeles in the three previous meetings between the sides, with a 3-2 Earthquakes win on May 23, a 4-3 Quakes win on June 30, and a 2-2 draw on October 21.
KEY PLAYERS – EARTHQUAKES: F Chris Wondolowski (27 goals, seven assists), F Steven Lenhart (10 goals, two assists), M Simon Dawkins, D Justin Morrow, D Steven Beitashour, GK Jon Busch GALAXY: F Robbie Keane (16 goals, nine assists), F/M Landon Donovan (nine goals, 14 assists), M David Beckham (seven goals, nine assists), M Juninho, D Omar Gonzalez, GK Josh Saunders.
MATCH-UP TO WATCH: Victor Bernardez vs. Robbie Keane. The Irish striker has been red-hot since returning from the Euros, and his quickness and intelligent runs will cause problems for the San Jose back-line if Bernardez can’t keep tabs on him.
OUTLOOK: San Jose only has one loss at home during league play this season, and that was in the second match of the year. If the Galaxy hopes to get past a resilient Earthquakes squad, winning at the Home Depot Center on Sunday is almost a must. If the Quakes can get any kind of positive result in the first leg, they will certainly head into Buck Shaw for the second leg oozing with confidence that they can get the job done – especially considering it will be the third game in seven days for the Galaxy.
PREDICTION: Despite the short turnaround, the Galaxy will grind out a win at home, 2-1, with Galaxy goals coming from Robbie Keane and a free kick from David Beckham, and San Jose’s goal from Steven Lenhart. But the return leg in San Jose will see the Quakes overcome a tired and battered Galaxy side, winning 3-1, SJ goals from Wondolowski (2) and Gordon, Galaxy goal from Magee. San Jose advances on a 4-3 aggregate.
What do you think of this series? Expect goals galore? See Steven Lenhart getting under the skin of the Galaxy defenders? Who do you see scoring more goals, Chris Wondolowski or Robbie Keane?
Share your thoughts below.