Galaxy hope to keep slim playoff hopes alive
Back in 2005, the Los Angeles Galaxy occupied the penthouse of Major League Soccer, having won "the double," an MLS Cup title as well as a U.S. Open Cup crown. Meanwhile, Chivas USA were at the opposite end of the spectrum, having completed their maiden season with a league-worst mark of 4-22-6. How times have changed.
Ahead of this week's "MLS Primetime Thursday" matchup (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2), Chivas and L.A. both have experienced near-complete reversals of fortune. Chivas is in contention for the Supporters Shield and has established itself as a contender for the MLS Cup. The Galaxy, whose faint playoff hopes are being given last rites, may yet finish at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Of course, given that it's a rivalry match, such matters will mean little once the first ball is kicked.
Five story lines to follow
1. The Doug Hamilton Honda SuperClasico Memorial Trophy
Named after the late Galaxy general manager, the trophy goes to the winner of the season series between L.A. and Chivas, and with the series split evenly so far, the winner of Thursday's match will claim the prize. Given Chivas' superior goal differential, a tie will see it claim the crown for the first time in its brief history, which -- despite the team's resurgence -- has seen it go 2-8-2 all-time against the Galaxy.
2. L.A.'s train wreck of a season
The schedule, the injuries, the distraction that has been David Beckham: All of these factors have contributed to what easily has been the worst season in the Galaxy's history. Yet, Frank Yallop's side showed some flashes of good play recently, in its SuperLiga final defeat by Mexican powerhouse Pachuca as well as in Saturday's 3-1 win over Colorado.
"I think in the last three games, you've seen a team that I think has turned the corner in terms of performances," Yallop said. "I just feel we've had healthier players. Obviously, we're not at full strength, but even with all of the guys out, we're starting to gel a little bit."
3. Chivas on the brink
|MLS Primetime Schedule|
|Chivas USA vs. L.A. Galaxy|
Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
11 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The Goats have been part of the chasing pack in the Western Conference all season, but a 4-0-1 stretch has resulted in a climb up the standings, and a win Thursday will see them leapfrog Houston and claim first place. Never before has Chivas been in first this late in the season, but coach Preki is determined to not let any satisfaction creep into his side.
"There is no time for relaxing," Preki said. "You can relax in the offseason. When you are in a season, you have to keep focused, keep working hard, and you have to prepare yourself for every game. I give my locker room and staff full credit. We've been able to maintain that focus on a weekly basis."
4. Will Yallop survive the season?
Yallop arrived in L.A. with a glittering coaching resumé, having led San Jose to two MLS Cups in three seasons. And while circumstances beyond his control are primarily to blame for the Galaxy's struggles, Yallop does find his reputation sullied, especially following his decision Aug. 23 to play Beckham on a gimpy ankle just 30 hours after he played an international match for England. Now Yallop finds himself on the hot seat.
"When you struggle, no matter what the excuse, usually change happens," Yallop said. "But I feel that the group as a whole is behind me, and we've seen some good performances in the last few games, and that always helps your cause."
5. Strangers in their own house?
While the Goats have enjoyed their best-ever season on the field, off the field has been a different story. Chivas is averaging just 12,191 fans per game, second-worst in the league, despite being the only side in MLS with an unbeaten home record. As a result, Javier Leon stepped down as CEO last week and was replaced Tuesday by longtime AEG executive Shawn Hunter.
Thursday's crowd should be larger and will be bolstered by a fair number of Galaxy fans in attendance for what will officially be listed as a Chivas home game.
Five players to watch
1. Maykel Galindo, F, Chivas
As so often happens during a stellar season, numerous Chivas club records are poised to fall, and Galindo, with 12 goals so far, looks well-positioned to top Ante Razov's club record of 14. The former Cuban international has been especially prolific of late, tallying five times in his past five games. But Preki is not about to let him rest easy.
"To be fair to [Galindo], he's done a terrific job and adjusted [to MLS]," Preki said. "I just feel there is another level, because if you push him on a daily basis, I think there is a lot more potential than what we are seeing right now."
2. Landon Donovan, M/F, Los Angeles
With nominal holding midfielder Kevin Harmse away on international duty, and with Beckham out injured, the age-old question of where to play Donovan takes on an added twist. Not that Donovan will be asked to assume Harmse's defensive duties, but Yallop could be forced to go with a central midfield pairing of Peter Vagenas and Donovan in an attacking role. What is certain is that Donovan will be lined up centrally as opposed to out wide, where Yallop hopes to exploit the U.S. international's speed in attack.
"I just want [Donovan] running free on the field and blasting by people, which is his game," Yallop said. "When you are playing central or up front, you've got more leeway to do that."
3. Claudio Suarez, D, Chivas
Chivas' defense continues to rank among the best in the league, and "El Emperador" has been at the heart of the Goats' stinginess. At age 38, Suarez certainly has lost a step or two, and a right calf injury could keep him out of action Thursday. But his immense experience has been invaluable on a back line that currently sports two second-year players in Jonathan Bornstein and Lawson Vaughn.
4. Abel Xavier, D, Los Angeles
For all of the Galaxy player acquisitions that have been panned, one move that has paid off has been the arrival of the former Portuguese international. Like Suarez for Chivas, Xavier has utilized his vast knowledge of the game to help keep together a back line that has been decimated by injuries. Xavier's cause was helped in the last match with the return of defender Ty Harden, and getting Troy Roberts back from suspension should help further.
5. Sacha Kljestan, M, Chivas
Another Chivas player on the brink of a setting a team record is Kljestan, whose eight assists have tied Razov's mark from last year. But records aside, the overall progress in Kljestan's game is what has impressed Preki.
"Especially after about the first seven or eight games of the season, [Kljestan] has been playing really good," Preki said. "He's worked both ways, and created some chances, and scored some goals for us. I think we'll see even more from Sacha."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.