Monday Hangover: LA, Crew get ready to rumble, sort of

A season-long duel between MLS' undefeateds is gaining momentum

 

Phew. They both made it.

I, like many MLS fans, have had the upcoming Columbus Crew - Los Angeles Galaxy match circled on the schedule for at least a month now. They were both undefeated—one loudly so, the other quietly—and on a collision course for a May 29 tilt at Crew Stadium.

Problem was, no one knew if both sides would remain undefeated. They were both set to lose players to the US team, plus there are injuries, suspensions, and the simple inevitability of a team’s falling eventually.

But they pulled it off. And now, in the immortal words of Michael Buffer, “Let’s get ready to rumble.”

Or not. Truth is, the Galaxy and Crew aren’t MLS’ version of the Sharks and Jets. There’s no real animosity between the clubs, no history of hard-bitten losses, mid-game melees, or wars of words. Other than the fact that both are undefeated, this game wouldn’t mean more than any other.

But both are undefeated. And when you consider the amount of firepower both sides were missing this week, for both of them to hold serve—actually, to get three wins on the road among the two of them—is a testament to their strength and only goes to show that this game does mean more than any other, at least so far this season. This is a prelude to what could become one of the great season-long duels of all time.

First, LA. They went into Dallas on Thursday to face a team that seemed finally to have found their rhythm. FCD were unbeaten in four, including two tough 1-0 wins. They had conceded only two goals over that four-game stretch.

Problem is, LA had conceded only two goals over the entire season. Once Mike Magee had the Galaxy a goal to the good in just 17 minutes, their defense took over, and when the final whistle blew, LA had notched their eighth shutout in 10 games this season. (They tacked another one on in Sunday’s friendly against Boca Juniors.)

The Crew, on the other hand, let their attack run riot on Thursday in a 3-1 win over New York. Well, maybe not run riot, but at least rule the day. Even without Guillermo Barros Schelotto, they played one of the more intelligent tactical matches we’ve seen so far—structured at the back, selective in their counterattack moments, ruthless in the finish.

Then, just three days later, they let their defense get the job done, pulling off a second brilliant win on the road, topping the energetic Kansas City Wizards, 1-0. It was KC’s first home league loss this season, and the Crew were polished and professional, getting another fine performance from Eddie Gaven and a refreshing one from new signing Emilio Renteria.

There were debates last week about which side is more awesome, LA or Columbus. Most observers went with LA. Some, including me, went with Columbus. (A few wackos picked Real Salt Lake, which caused the rest of us to throw our hands in the air.) We made our arguments, presented our defenses, and pontificated on this that and the other thing.

Now, as we always knew, they can settle it on the field. I’m just glad they both will enter this match unbeaten. Because that’s how real, juicy rumbles must start—with something at stake.

SIDE NOTE: The rumor is that the US team will announce their 23-man World Cup roster sometime midweek. At that point, a US spokesman told me, any players not on the squad will be released back to their clubs.

That means C-Bus’s Chad Marshall and Robbie Rogers and LA’s Edson Buddle, bubble players all, could be available on Saturday.

***

Cannonball

Which came first: Joe Cannon’s smile or the San Jose Earthquakes four-game shutout streak?

The veteran goalkeeper has always been a world-class shot stopper, as well as a world-class personality, but in recent years he seemed to be chastened somewhat. Losing will do that to you.

But if this weekend’s 1-0 win at the Seattle Sounders, he seems back to his loosey-goosey best.

No more whispers that his best days were behind him. No more hints that the club’s acquisition of Jon Busch would herald Cannon’s exit. And lo and behold, the side is tied on points for 2nd place in the West.

“It’s a lot more enjoyable this year,” he said after the Seattle game. “This group is a lot easier to work with. In years past, you try to carry the weight of the world on your shoulder because it's an expansion team.”

***

The Dom-inator

Sorry if I’ve written about this before, but I cannot stop marveling at the Houston Dynamo’s ability to get results despite, many times, being forced to play without their big guns.

This past weekend, Dominic Kinnear was without the services of Brian Ching (int’l duty), Andrew Hainault (int’l duty), Pat Onstad (int’l duty), Eddie Robinson (injury), and Geoff Cameron (injury). That’s five starters, folks, all missing.

No problem. Guys slotted in, knew their roles within Kinnear’s system, and came out on the other end with a 2-0 win and another three points. Granted, they were playing D.C. United—haplessness defined right now—but a win is a win.

***

Start Spreading the
News

Here’s a note to any international club considering a tour of the US: Don’t play the New York Red Bulls.

The Big Apple club has a knack for running up the score in international friendlies. They did it in a 3-1 win over Santos in March. They did it again in a 3-1 win over Juventus on Sunday.

Now if only they could figure out a way to do it in a game that counts for something. The Red Bulls have lost three in a row, and haven’t looked good doing it.

The main problem, as I see it, is the lack of anyone who can consistently get by a defender, creating either a man-up situation or space for himself. Macoumba Kandji, who is injured at the moment, was capable of doing that, but no one else is. Which forces Juan Pablo Angel to drop too deep to get the ball, which puts him out of position to receive a cross in a dangerous
area.

Perhaps there is a talented, proven, possibly French attacker would could alleviate some of these problems.

***

Great Red North

What to make of Toronto FC? When they are bad, they are very bad. When they are good, they are, well, okay.

A 1-0 home win over strugglers New England isn’t necessarily a sign that all is right at BMO Field, but it helps. When Julian De Guzman and Dwayne De Rosario return, Preki needs to incorporate them into the same team-first ethic the side showed on Saturday. I’d show them a tape of Marin Saric, who played a terrific match for the Reds, frustrating the Revs’ attackers again and again with his gritty tackling and occasional niggling actions.