The Thierry Henry and David Beckham eras are both over in MLS. We didn’t get the MLS Cup matchup Don Garber secretly wanted between the two during their time. We didn’t even get the retirement game MLS fans deserved between Henry and Donovan in December thanks to Charlie Davies’ hand. Before I forget, we did get a playoff series that was lackluster from the Red Bulls in 2011 thanks to Roy Miller’s karate kick to Beckham’s midsection and Frank Roast doing his best statue impersonation.
Now? A matchup between the NY Red Bulls (3-0-2) and LA Galaxy (3-2-2) has a different narrative, more along the lines of Hollywood versus Off-Broadway. The Galaxy are the defending MLS Cup champs and winners in three of the last four years. New York is coming off a tumultuous off-season but come into this matchup as the leader in Points Per Game at 2.2. Heading into the weekend they were top of the Eastern Conference but now sit fourth. A win would put them back atop the east with either a game or two in hand of the teams behind them.
The Galaxy come into Red Bull Arena where the Red Bulls have not only won both their matches this season but have not conceded a goal at home yet. It was supposed to be one of the league’s shakiest back lines heading into 2015 and with two injuries in the first match, it was only thought to get worse. Now, Roy Miller seems to be fully fit and available for selection against LA while Ronald Zubar could make the 18. Without Zubar, the combination of young Matt Miazga and Damien Perinelle has been outstanding for Jesse Marsch. Miazga has done a great job so far this season, especially since he played himself out of Petke’s team last season. Against San Jose last Friday, Miazga had 8 aerial wins, 8 clearances, 7 interceptions, and 4 tackles. Combine this with Chris Duvall cementing his role on the right flank and Kemar “Taxi” Lawrence filling in for Miller and the Red Bulls have given up a league best 4 goals this season. Of course, they have only played five matches but you can only base your statistics on games played, right?
The Galaxy will be without Robbie Keane according to the Irishmen but Gyazi Zardes is back in the fold, Bradford Jameison IV was impressive against SKC, and Alan Gordon has a penchant for scoring dramatic goals. While Todd Dunivant still won’t be able to go, Leonardo seems to be back in the mix for LA giving Arena some freedom with his backline. Whatever back four Arena trots out, they’ll have to contend with a retooled and reenergized Bradley Wright-Phillips. Though Wright-Phillips is not leading the team in goals, he is tied atop the lead in assist for the league with three and his commitment to the high-pressure system could prove difficult for LA. The Red Bulls are leading the league in forcing opponents to lose possession with 174 while LA sit 10th with 153.
For NY to take full points from this tilt, they will need to continue to play their high-pressure game. Omar Gonzales is not the best with the ball at his feet, much like SJ’s defenders last week. Continuing to have the pressure start with BWP will be key but Kljestan against Juninho will be more vital for the Res Bulls. The Brazilian lost his partner, Marcello Sarvas, in the off-season, and has not lost a step in the last two years. Kljestan’s vision has grown exceptionally since his Chivas USA days and his reading of the game will be key in stopping the LA midfielder from playing out of the backfield.
LA will have to exploit the one weakness in this Red Bull team so far this season: set pieces. Half the goals scored against NY have come from pieces and NY’s players turning off for a second to lose their mark. The Galaxy are strong on set pieces with the likes of Omar Gonzales and Alan Gordon banging goals in with their heads in what seems every game this season. New York is going to have to be more physical and mindful when defending their 18 on set pieces.
The glitz and glamour of the past six seasons is gone. The entertainment value of this match is still there for the casual observer and this match should still prove to be entertaining. If not, at least before the match the Red Bulls will be honoring Juan Pablo Angel for their Best 20 in 20 program and the highlights they will show will definitely be entertaining. My prediction for this match: 3-1 Ny as the Red Bulls remain the only unbeaten side in MLS.
(image courtesy of Mike Lawrence/ISIPhotos.com)