CARSON, CA - MARCH 14: Galaxy season wrapped up in one picture..(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
While Sporting KC rides high, undefeated and atop the Eastern Conference, LA takes up the bottom of the west and is facing a litany of questions, mostly in defense. Which team comes to Livestrong Sporting Park on Saturday, the struggling last place Galaxy or the defending champions?
The Internet as always is full of whispers, in Sporting Kansas City's case they all seem to be saying "call me back when you've played somebody." Well, this week's opponent certainly qualifies as a somebody. The LA Galaxy are the defending champions and boast three designated players in David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Robbie Keane.Offensively, they still are one of the league's best, although they do have occasional troubles linking between midfielders and forwards. I say occasional because we all know what Beckham and Donovan can do with free kicks and corners.
However, there are certainly detractors who would put an asterisk on this game as well, since the loss of Omar Gonzalez has left a hole in the central defense that hasn't been fixed yet in the young season. So for the purposes of this preview, I must ask you to believe these are the Galaxy of last year, but still acknowledge that it's possible that this is no fluke. The Galaxy might be the worst defensive team in the Western Conference and that may not be changing any time soon.
For Sporting KC, they must acknowledge that this is just another game. The playing field is so level that there isn't a gap between the best team in MLS and the wild-card teams. Last year, the LA Galaxy were the first team in a long while to establish that separation from the pack, but this year is a different story. This is not a rivalry game either, but you can bet the emotions will be running on high early and the start may be awkward at best. Right now, Sporting is the best team in MLS, and here's a chance to define how good they are.
The LA Defense Struggles
The assumption I made is that LA is having trouble replacing Omar Gonzalez. That is part of it, but there is so much more to the problem than that. It seems Gonzalez was the linchpin of the defense, but not only is he gone so is veteran goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. While this didn't hinder LA last year, Saunders had Gonzalez ahead of him marshaling the defense. Without any veteran leadership in the middle of the field and so many offensively minded players, LA has appeared disjointed between midfield and defense. Beckham has done a great deal of their holding in midfield, but without Donovan was needed to provide some offense last week to dire results. New England tore them apart for it.. That being said the center back play still leaves more to be desired, and A.J. DeLaGarza needs to step up and take over that leadership role.
On the positive side, Todd Dunivant may be the best left back in MLS, and the biggest challenge to the rampaging duo of Kei Kamara and Chance Myers. No two players are playing nearly as in sync as the Sporting right winger and back, so Dunivant will be facing the brunt of the Sporting attack. Unlike the last two foes, Dunivant may have the ability to thwart it, but probably not completely. Look for another breakthrough down the right anyways.
The Consistent Graham Zusi
I've been slow to name Zusi as a man of the match all year. There are two reasons for this. First, he shouldn't be man of the match every time, the standard for his performance should go up with his ceiling being raised. Second, we've spent so much time attacking on the wings, that you miss some of the midfield contributions. For the Royals fans here, think of how Carlos Beltran played center field, and how he made difficult catches look simple. Zusi is playing like that right now, and I just seem to be underplaying it. It's just a trick on the eyes, and doesn't seem as obvious as the burly, forceful maneuvering of CJ Sapong and Kei Kamara.
The energy in midfield was evident and the instinct displayed on last week's assist off his own miss is now to the point that I have perhaps taken it for granted. In a match against two of the better set piece takers in MLS, Zusi now has a chance to demonstrate on national TV, how far he has come in the past year, and perhaps he can out-Beckham Beckham himself.
The Staple Question: Who starts up top?
This is probably the last time I ask this question, because once they are both in good form; it's irrelevant and just a style emphasis for Peter Vermes. The problems with LA's defense pose selection problems for Sporting KC. The lineup again may not change, why mess with a winning product. LA struggles with crosses may point to a big day for CJ Sapong. Certainly, you would start Sapong again to take advantage of this, but they also struggle with speed. To attack them vertically, Teal Bunbury would be a better choice just for his speed, not a knock on Sapong's athleticism at all. In honesty, this is a first-world problem and an embarrassment of riches. That we have two backups that haven't seen the field but we are completely comfortable dictates that this is one position where the worries are short and the options aplenty. I'm sure most of us wished all choices in life were this hard but this rewarding,
Because I'm going to be ballsy, I could see Bunbury starting
Sporting KC 2 LA Galaxy 1
I don't see either defense keeping a clean sheet, but depending on breaks I could see Sporting KC scoring anywhere from 1-4 goals. Until LA figures it out, I'm betting against their defense.