It’s been a week of extremes for the Philadelphia Union. Within 3 days, the MLS club conquered the season’s highest mountain with a 2-1 road victory over defending champion Kansas City on May 14th, only to come crashing back to earth the following Saturday with a horrific 5-3 shellacking at the hands of surging New England, a match that was nowhere near as competitive as the final score suggests. Now, it’s off to the land of movie stars, valley girls and dream-makers for a pair of matches against the best and worst California’s corner of the MLS has to offer. The odds are pretty much even on whether this trip will dreamy or nightmarish for Philadelphia.
As has often been the case this season, the upcoming matches hold promise, at least on paper. The Stub Hub Center, home base for both the L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA, has also played host to a whole lot of disappointment this season—and not just the predictable kind. Chivas USA, a club in so much organizational disarray, Major League Soccer assumed control of its operations prior the season, has taken-up its customary position near the bottom of the heap in the league’s Western Conference. But here’s a fun tavern trivia question. Which of the following MLS clubs has the best record heading into play this weekend: the L.A. Galaxy or Chivas USA? I’m betting very few of you would’ve won the Coors Light t-shirt last Saturday night on this one. The surprising answer is Chivas, if only by a hair. Their 2-5-4 record not only bests L.A. by a point, it puts them only one behind your Union—which is either a testament to the success the MLS is having as they try to turn the franchise around, or sad evidence of the state of things in Philadelphia. All three clubs involved in these two upcoming matches have to be thinking there’s a chance for good things to happen.
A Dim Galaxy?
In most years, most supporters facing a two-game road trip through Los Angeles would probably rather see Chivas first, since this historically lackluster club usually represents the best chance for 3-points. That’s not necessarily true this time around and as luck would have it, Philly draws the L.A. Galaxy first. The rare Sunday match (8 p.m., CSN and Univision) is the sandwich event in what the host club is calling its Family Reunion. Fans can actually show-up two hours early for an alumni game and stay late for a match involving LA’s II squad. Maybe the extra exposure to the afternoon heat will take some of the energy out of them. According to the Union plan, the Galaxy’s play can then steal the rest.
L.A. currently occupies last place in the West, a heck of an accomplishment, even for a franchise that’s been gradually losing some of its shine since David Beckham’s departure a couple of years back. To be fair, the Galaxy’s record isn’t terrible (2-2-3). They’ve got 3 games at hand on the Union and Chivas and they’ve actually out-scored opponents so far 8-to-7. But this is not the same team that used to roll over opponents week after week on their way to a seemingly preordained position near the top of the Western Conference ladder. They’re winless in their last 4 tries and have been shut-out twice. They’ve had trouble in recent weeks with clubs like Portland and Seattle, teams with similar records as Philadelphia, and they have not seemed nearly as dominant on offense. The Galaxy has only score more than one goal in a game once since mid-April (a 2-2 draw with Vancouver).
The Galaxy lost probably their most well-known player in Landon Donovan to the USMNT call-ups recently and the knee-jerk response among Union fans on that news is probably overwhelmingly positive. But at 32, Donovan is not the player he once was, openly admits that he’s far from a lock to represent the U.S. in Brazil this summer and has ceded his position among his club’s stat leaders. Robbie Keane leads L.A. with a hefty 5 goals in just 8 games played. The bigger chip for Union supporters is that the rest of the Galaxy’s line-up has also pretty much allowed Keane to be the guy. In a rare twist, the Galaxy’s assist leader is not a forward or even a midfielder. It’s defender Dan Garden who has 3. If there’s a way to beat L.A. this time around, it’s keeping the ball away from Keane and pushing the ball forward.
Red Card Reduction
The question for the Union is who exactly handles that push? Midfielder Maurice Edu is back from the national team’s camp and should be available, but their primary playmaker of late, Cristian Maidana, is out with a regrettable red-card picked-up late in last week’s debacle against New England on an ill-advised rough tackle after the outcome was all but decided. The Union still has plenty of weapons. Hopefully, the likes of Vincent Noguiera, Danny Cruz, Amobi Okugo, Leo Fernandez and Sabastien Le Toux can step things up. A win against L.A. would set things up nicely for the following Saturday when Philadelphia takes to the same pitch against Chivas USA.
The Union has announced a July 25th Friday night friendly against Crystal Palace of the Barclay’s English Premiere League. Crystal Palace finished in 11th place in this year’s EPL standings with 45 points, well behind Champion Manchester City. Still, this is a nice, tune-up match for Philadelphia against a relatively talented English side. Of course, this will be a pre-season tilt for the Eagles, so the starters may not play the entire match. The Union game is the middle contest of the 3-city tour for Crystal Palace which begins in Columbus against the Crew and ends in Richmond, Virginia, against the USL’s Kickers.