The New England Revolution have come through a bit of a crucible, beating Philly and Houston, earning a creditable draw with New York, and putting away a Toronto team they were supposed to beat. The run they're on right now, including Tuesday's Open Cup win in Rochester, brings a lot of momentum into Sunday's game, the second of a run of three home matches.
On Sunday, though, they will meet the defending MLS Cup champions. The LA Galaxy is a team with the ability to beat anybody, anywhere, on any given day. This is a true test for the Revolution, probably on the level of what they faced in Houston, or perhaps even harder.
LA will be missing Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez, though, as both players are with their respective national teams for this most recent batch of friendlies and qualifiers. That creates holes for the Revs to exploit, and they'll have to if they have any shot at all of getting something from this match. I said when they started this home stand that four points from three games should be the minimum, and six should be the target; a loss here would be acceptable, but would put all the marbles on next week's game against D.C., a team that always plays the Revs tough.
Today's Q&A is with Josie Becker of LAG Confidential, SB Nation's Los Angeles Galaxy blog.
TBM: David Beckham is gone, Landon Donovan only came back a few weeks ago, and Todd Dunivant's been injured much of the year, and yet it seems like the Galaxy behemoth is nearly unstoppable. How is it that this squad was able to weather the storm of Donovan's break and still come out now looking like one of the league's best sides?
JB: Last year, Donovan's best know spot was up top with Robbie Keane. Not having Donovan to begin the season meant Mike Magee started up top with Robbie Keane for a month, which resulted in five goals by the now traded Magee. With Magee up top and Donovan in Southeast Asia, plus David Beckham leaving for France, there were a lot of questions in the midfield. Luckily Arena had prepared for Beckham's eventual departure by getting Marcelo Sarvas who has been a great engine in the midfield.
That still left questions about the distribution from the wings, as Christian Wilhelmsson had left in the offseason. Arena went after Colin Clark, who's been a bust, and promoted Sean Franklin to the midfield with Leonardo filling in on the back line. The Great Shift of 2013 worked for a few weeks, but Leonardo proved volatile and distribution was still an issue.
So the answer is mostly in getting pieces the Galaxy already had over the years to contribute in new ways. When Donovan returned, the distribution issues in the midfield saw he and Magee go back to wide midfielder spots. Luckily LA had a couple of homegrown forwards to slot in and contribute.
TBM: There will be no Robbie Keane and no Omar Gonzalez on Sunday night. Other than Donovan, it's tough to think of any more important figures for the Galaxy. How do you see Bruce Arena and the squad dealing with those absences against the Revs?
JB: The Galaxy got solid contribution from Tommy Meyer last year, both during the Omar Gonzalez injury and later during the A.J. DeLaGarza injury. He was injured to begin the year, which saw Leonardo get a shot on the back line again, but I expect Arena to turn to young Meyer again in New England. The glaring issue I see is that with the midweek US Open Cup match, Meyer and Leonardo both had to travel to Carolina and play. Which means DeLaGarza hasn't been practicing with his partner on the back line all week. I can see communication mistakes contributing to a Rev goal on Sunday.
Up top the situation is better, but still requires some tough decisions. When LA has gone with two Homegrown players up top, it's often looked leaderless with no one taking charge. Pairing a homegrown player with an experienced Keane or Magee has worked well, but if Arena choses to go with Donovan up top then there's a midfield hole to fill. As is LA are going to have to start Michael Stephens in the midfield with Robbie Rogers not match day ready yet. Stephens and Jimenez starting as the wide midfielders would not be an attacking dream.
TBM: I've been intrigued by Gyasi Zardes ever since he made those brash comments at the SuperDraft about his skill. He's been getting a fair amount of time for the Galaxy lately, so what can you tell me about his ability and what he brings to the table for the Galaxy? Do you think we'll see him on Sunday?
JB: You'll definitely see him on Sunday. Zardes has a great engine, he's shown himself more capable for the rigors of a full ninety minutes than any of the other homegrown forwards. In his first start Sunday up top with Robbie Keane, the veteran forward told Zardes just to follow him and it worked great. You can see Zardes knew when to follow Keane's lead, and when to break off and find his own space. He's the type who can create space with the ball on his boot, a quite valuable skill.
What I haven't seen yet is a finishing ability that leaves keepers baffled. However, I think finding the right shot is something that will come with time.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should look out for in this match.
JB: We haven't talked Jose Villarreal yet, as as he and Zardes could be starting up top together he's certainly worth a mention. We've seen a Villarreal-McBean pairing a few times this year, but not yet Villarreal-Zardes from the opening whistle. Villarreal is one of those players who does know how to beat the keeper one on one, but he makes his moves off the ball looking for the space to get the shot on target. He's also got great speed to beat a high line, so if he's on the same side with Landon Donovan look for some exciting through balls if the New England back line gets too far up pitch.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected lineup and a score line prediction.
JB: Cudicini; Franklin, DeLaGarza, Meyer, Dunivant; Donovan, Juninho, Sarvas, Stephens; Zardes, Villarreal