Preview: Crew vs. Galaxy

Get ready for Battle of the Best, Round 2

The Basics

Los Angeles Galaxy (13-5-5, 44 points, tied for first place in Western Conference) vs. Columbus Crew (13-5-5, 44 points, first in Eastern Conference) at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

Alltime series: Crew lead 15-10-8; series is even 7-7-4 in LA.

TV Info

10:30 p.m. ET, FS West (LA, delayed to 12:30 a.m. ET), ONN-TV (Columbus); Direct Kick, MatchDay Live

Game Intro

In quite possibly the most important regular-season game of 2010,
Eastern Conference leaders Columbus visit Western Conference leaders Los
Angeles.

Not only does this game have implications within each
conference—possibly more for the Galaxy and their ever-tightening
conference—but the team that comes out on top would take the lead in the
battle for the Supporters' Shield. Columbus are vying for their third
consecutive Shield while the Galaxy are hoping to win their first Shield
since 2002.

As if all of that didn't make the "Battle of the Best, Round 2," important enough, David Beckham
could make his 2010 season debut. Beckham was activated from the
disabled list on Thursday and played 45 minutes in a scrimmage the day
before. The English midfielder said Thursday that he hoped to play some
sort of role in the game.

Los Angeles Galaxy 

After an eye-popping start of 10-0-2, the Galaxy have come back down
to Planet MLS. They are 2-4-2 since early July and the rest of the
league has been slowly making up ground. Columbus finally caught the
Galaxy in the Shield race last weekend.

LA are lucky to enter Saturday's match not on a massive drought. Omar Gonzalez's
90th-minute equalizer last weekend against 10-man Chicago snapped their
350-minute scoreless streak and ensured that the club had at least a
little momentum heading into the crunch clash. But there are other
worries. Namely, the Galaxy have not won at home since July 4, though
that stat is tempered by the fact that they have played just four league
games at The Home Depot Center over that stretch. 

Columbus Crew 

Perhaps the Crew's visit to the HDC is coming at a perfect time.
After all, they did not have a midweek match leading up to this game and
will have had a full week to prepare – something that hasn't happend
much of late as they have battled in CONCACAF Champions League play and
US Open Cup play.

After the LA match, the Crew will begin another tough stretch that
includes more Champions League matches, both home and away, as well as
the US Open Cup final, on Oct. 5 at Seattle.

Still, Columbus have come through a difficult August in good shape. Guillermo Barros Schelotto has picked up his game, the return of Eddie Gaven from injury has provided the necessary flank danger and the emergence of attacker Emilio Renteria
has given the offense a needed boost. With a win, the Crew will take
possession of the top spot in the overall league standings and will be
the frontrunners in the Supporters Shield race. 

Heroes & Villains

Chad Marshall vs. Edson Buddle: Perhaps
the rest of the league has figured out the best way to slow down the
Galaxy—make sure Buddle doesn't score. The Galaxy are 8-0-1 in games in
which Buddle scores; 2-4-3 when he doesn't. While putting the clamps
down on midfielders such as Juninho and Michael Stephens has helped, opposing teams have also done well to muscle Buddle around.

If physical play is the key to slowing down Buddle, then expect the
bulking Marshall to throw his weight around and knock Buddle off the
ball. The two-time MLS Defender of the Year rarely gets beaten, as he is
always seemingly in the right position. On Columbus set pieces, the
tables could be turned as Marshall is dangerous in the air as well. 

Stat that make you go "Hmm..."

Since the start of the 2009 season, Columbus and Los Angeles have
amassed the most points in the league. The Crew have 93 points while the
Galaxy have 92. Real Salt Lake (83) are the closest competitor and the only other team with more than 80 points in that span.

Keys to the Game

Los Angeles

    * Get more service to Edson Buddle.
    * Take advantage of set pieces; only goal in last three games was via set piece.

Columbus

    * Play wide: The Galaxy are vulnerable on the flanks.
    * Be opportunistic: The Galaxy's defensive line plays high and can be beaten by counters, quick passing.

Injuries

Los Angeles

QUESTIONABLE: DF Gregg Berhalter (neck)

Columbus

OUT: MF Robbie Rogers (L knee surgery); DOUBTFUL: DF Gino Padula (L ankle sprain); PROBABLE: MF Emmanuel Ekpo (R adductor strain)