Sunday's game against the New England Revolution is one that holds a lot of promise an presents many questions. How will the Galaxy look with De Jong returning? How will the Galaxy look without Ashley Cole? Will Robbie Keane see the field?
With such an early start time and being against the New England Revolution, it also serves as a pleasant reminder of the glory of 2014, and, with the Galaxy only having one loss on the season, perhaps the promise of returning to the glory days of Galaxy soccer after a rocky 2015.
But this isn't all about the Galaxy. Their opponent on Sunday is a young team full of attacking players. To learn more about our eastern conference opponents, we exchanged 3 questions with Jake Catanese of the Bent Mustket.
LAGC: You guys have played 10 games and find yourself below the red line. What's been going wrong for the Revs and what's needed to right the ship?
Part of me wants to say that if the Revolution didn't have bad luck, they'd have no luck at all in 2016. But some of the Revolution's problems have been their own doing, two red cards, back to back weeks giving up penalties are all little things New England has done to shoot themselves in the foot. That being said, basically the Revs can't finish. And it's not for a lack of trying either, they've hit posts, missed very good chances just wide, etc.
Fixing the problem as far as I'm concerned means just having that breakout game, where the Revs win by a very big scoreline, like 3-0 or 4-1. A big win will ease the pressure off of a team that seems like they're pressing a little bit and trying to score perfect goals rather than just score goals period. Also, the Revs are at their best when they're having fun and "trying stuff" as the phrase goes and a big win, like say at Los Angeles, could go a long way to getting this team over the hump. They haven't been playing badly, at least not all the time, but they also don't have the wins to show for it and even in a fairly close Eastern Conference, they could face a tough climb back into the playoffs if they don't start turning draws into three points.
LAGC: Juan Agudelo has a goal and an assist this year in only 306 minutes, and, from an analytics standpoint, Juan was the most productive Revs player last year when you look at his expected goals + expected assists per 90 minutes. Is this the year he finally breaks out? If not, what exactly about his game is keeping him on the bench and what does he need to do to become a starter?
Juan, like a lot of the Revs strikers, has dealt with some minor injuries this year. Four players have started as a lone striker for the Revs (Agudelo, Bunbury, Davies, Hollinger-Janzen) in a stretch of ten games, which isn't a lot of time to build consistency with your midfield. Diego Fagundez' form is keeping Juan in particular from getting minutes at left wing/midfield so right now it the healthiest body that's playing up top, and this week it should be Agudelo.
If there is a candidate for a Revs breakout player, Juan would certainly be on the list. This is a team that is going to score by committee with everyone in the attacking four chipping in the bulk of the goals and assists, but if Juan is getting the bulk of the minutes up top he's going to have to produce. Two years ago Lee Nguyen was out of his mind during an MVP finalist campaign, and while the Revs don't need numbers like that, they could use two or three people win double digit goals and to make another deep playoff run, Juan having a solid season would go a long way.
LAGC: The Revs have lost 3 MLS Cups to the Galaxy. From an organizational standpoint, or even from the standpoint of the fans, does that add a little something to these match-ups? Would you consider this a rivalry from a revs point of view?
It's strange to think that most of the Revolution's rivalries have been born out of the MLS Playoffs rather than natural geography. Yes the fans enjoy playing the Red Bulls, City, Philly and DC United (the I-95 Cup is a real thing), but in the early years it was playoff series against Chicago and later Houston that were seen as the most hated teams for Revs fans. The LA Galaxy certainly fit into that category as well, and I watch the highlights of that wonder 5-0 win from 2013 in Gillette (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPkYW0TsRD8) far more times than I should admit. The fact that The StubHub Center has generally been a house of horrors for the Revs it's nice to put the screws to the Galaxy when we can.
Shuttleworth; Tierney, Goncalves, Farrell, Watson; Koffie, Caldwell; Fagundez, Nguyen, Rowe; Agudelo
There's a couple of question marks for the Revs right now, the biggest one being left back. Tierney missed both games the Revs played on short rest and his replacement Donnie Smith, who played well in two starts, picked up his own hamstring/leg injury over the weekend so there's a chance that Watson flips over to the left and London Woodberry starts on the right. Striker is also a problem and if Agudelo's healthy he probably starts but rookie Femi Hollinger-Janzen has played well and earned a start against Orlando and it wouldn't shock me to see Femi keep his starting role before making way for Agudelo again in the second half.
The Revolution need a result from this game, but not necessarily a win. The draw train continues, 2-2
So Nigel De Jong returns from suspension while Ashley Cole has to serve one for a red card. How much bubble wrap should the Revs bring to the west coast and how will the LA Galaxy defense lineup this week?
De Jong gets a reputation for being dirty based on a handful of incidents, however, when you look at fouls per game at his position, he's one of the cleanest players in the league. He's at 1.8 fouls per 90 minutes this year which is only 18th in the league amongst centermids with 3 appearances or more, behind guys like Beckerman, Alonso, Laba, Gruezo, Sarvas and Bravo, just to name a few. Of course, this doesn't mean he isn't going to injure anyone on Sunday, but it should provide comfort to Revs fans that, at most, only 1.8 players will need to be carried off.
In terms of backline, the loss of Cole is certainly an issue as he has been one of the Galaxy's best defenders this year, however, the Galaxy have one of the best leftbacks in the league the past two years in Robbie Rogers stepping in, so it shouldn't be too much of an issue. The bigger question mark remains to be Daniel Steres. Bruce Arena is practically married to the idea of having big centerbacks, and, if the shoulders are broad enough, he's willing to overlook a lot of mistakes. I call it Leonardo syndrome and I think he's caught a case of it with Steres. Steres very much looks like a player who played in USL last year, and has been responsible for 3 goals thus far, and a DoGSO worthy foul which wasn't called. He's easily the weakest link in this impressive Galaxy backline.
LA has won two of their last three by big margins, what's clicking for them right now and how well do you think they match up against the Revs at home?
It all comes down to Giovani dos Santos finally getting a chance to play under a true number 9. When Keane went down, Bruce was forced to play Zardes in his most logical position and it worked for everyone. The other key was Gerrard stepping up in those two games, creating a level of flexibility in the pocket under the backline reminiscent of the Galaxy's 2014 offense. The Galaxy sorely missed Gerrard in their last game where SKC completely controlled the game and LA were unable to muster any sort of offense outside of the one counter attack they scored on.
Of course, with Gerrard likely out, and the outside possibility of Robbie Keane playing on Sunday, what the Galaxy offense will look like is anyone's guess, but, in general, it's not smart to bet against the Galaxy at home.
If the Galaxy were in the Eastern Conference, they'd be in first place right now, is the West just that good this year or is the East just beating each other up with all these ties? Which teams around MLS have impressed you so far?
I think the past few years the conferences have been as unbalanced as they have ever been since I began watching the league. When you look at the Columbus Crew last year, who made it all the way to the final, I'm not sure they make the playoffs in the west that year, and, if they did, it would have been in SKC's place meaning they would've matched up against Portland in Portland in an elimination game. I think this can be largely attributed to the double whammy of losing SKC to add two expansion teams.
With all this in mind, I don't see the east fully catching up with the West for another year or so, however, the season is still relatively young so I think it's kind of hard to tell if either conference got better or worst.
I think there are couple of teams in both conferences who are winning on unsustainable offensive and defensive numbers (Orlando, San Jose, and RSL) as well as teams like New York Red Bulls and Columbus, who, despite their slow start, are putting up the kind of expected goals numbers that indicate they are probably much better than where they sit in the table.
While I'm still withholding judgment on surprise breakouts Philly and Colorado, I think the biggest shock for me this year has been Vancouver. This was a team challenging for the shield last year and, so far, they have been woefully unimpressive to start the season.
Rowe; Rogers, Steres, Van Damme, DeLaGarza; Lletget, DeJong, Husidic, Magee; dos Santos, Zardes
The biggest question mark will be the health of Robbie Keane, which, as of writing this, is still up in the air. He's been training and Arena was quoted last week as saying he was giving it another week. It's conceivable he makes his return in the starting 11, and I think there is a decent chance he makes the bench.
The Galaxy tend to take care of business at home, and with multiple goals; 3-1