After an underachieving stretch of matches that highlighted (or lowlighted, depending on your side of spectrum) July and early August, the Los Angeles Galaxy return to Major League Soccer play with nothing else to play for other than the trophies the league has to offer.
The home stretch of the 2010-11 season for Bruce Arena's club begins with a road trip to the Red Bull Arena, where the New York Red Bulls await.
The Galaxy's lead in the overall standings has been reduced to a mere three points. That's because the Columbus Crew sit at 37 points (11-4-4) while the Galaxy are stuck at 40 (12-3-4).
With the race for the Shield entering the final two months of play, every game counts, and every victory will be important. Los Angeles cannot afford to let their efforts go to waste.
Especially with the revamped New York Red Bulls, who have Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry among their new signings.
Combined with the scoring ability of Juan Pablo Angel, the Red Bulls will stop at nothing to make things miserable for the struggling Galaxy back line. Angel has scored 11 goals for New York this season.
Saturday's match will answer the question as to whether or not the combo of Omar Gonzales, Sean Franklin, Todd Dunivant, and Gregg Berhalter have learned their lesson and clamp down the vaunted Red Bulls attack.
The back line showed their mettle on Saturday against Real Madrid in the first half of their friendly, but will it translate to a result in Harrison, New Jersey on August 14?
A key player to watch outside of the designated players is Macoumba Kandji. He had a chance to get a goal for New York against the Chicago Fire last week in the 47th minute of a match that ended scoreless. Look for the playmaking ability of Dane Richards and Kandji to provide a change-up for Henry and Marquez.
Tim Ream and Roy Miller have done their part in the defense and have the unenviable task of stopping the chances given to Edson Buddle and Landon Donovan, who look to get back on track with their production.
Another key battle to watch out for is at the goalkeeper position.
The reliable Cameroon international Bouma Coundoul has a 1.17 goals against average with 70 saves and a 76.9 percent save percentage for the Red Bulls.
His counterpart, the Galaxy's Donovan Ricketts, has a 0.72 GAA to go with 49 saves and a 79.0 percent save percentage.
Buddle is still Major League Soccer's leading scorer with 12 goals to his credit. Landon Donovan has been the glue to LA's offense, with 11 assists and five goals this season.
Lately, the Buddlevan Connection's production has been lacking, but if midfielders Juninho and Michael Stephens as well as forward Tristan Bowen get open and stretch the defense, it will be trouble on the way for New York in the form of the Galaxy's No. 10 and No. 14.
This is a match the Galaxy must win. I see this becoming a goal festival, with one of the Red Bull designated players getting on the sheet. However, Los Angeles should get more out of this match and get themselves back on track. Let's try this result:
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:00 PM PT and will be televised by Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Español.