With a perfect 6-0 prediction record last week, I have invited this column’s first guest prognosticator, Joe G, to entreat some friendly MLS punditry and competition. More on this at the bottom of the article.
This week, the West hits the road while the East fortifies the castle. But we don’t care about that right now.
David Beckham is back! And Landon Donovan is mad at him!
Say what you want about this. I did. But, despite who you support in the saga, one question has yet to be answered:
Since when did the Galaxy become a playoff contender without these guys?
For the Game of Week 18, the Los Angeles Galaxy (24 pts/17 GP) square off against the New York Red Bulls (10 pts/19 GP) at Giants Stadium. A mostly predictable fixture, the Galaxy gets the nod this week because they will be the team to watch for the remainder of the season.
Not just because of David Beckham’s return. Not just because of the “Landy-Becks” saga.
But because the Galaxy figured out how to win without their squabbling stars.
Just outside the playoff picture on goal differential, Los Angeles has posted three impressive shutout wins against Houston (before the Gold Cup took their starting roster), New England, and Chivas USA. The Galaxy also posted only three losses for the season, tied for the best in MLS. To what do they owe this sudden improvement in form?
Surprisingly enough, defense. This is a team that nixed their indomitable attack force of Becks, Landon, and Edson Buddle by letting in an astronomical league-worst 62 goals in last season, eleven more than the second-worst (D.C. United’s 51 GA).
But after the first 17 games of the 2009 season, the Galaxy have only shipped away 18 goals, tied for fourth in MLS. Couple this defensive improvement with one of the most dangerous attacking duos in MLS history (Beckham and Donovan), and the Galaxy may make their first playoffs since 2005.
That said, rookie centerback Omar Gonzalez and Gregg Berhalter should have their hands full with the Red Bulls’ always-dangerous Juan Pablo Angel, but unfortunately the ex-Villa striker has been the only bright star in this abysmal squad. Ten points, fewest in the league, out of 19 fixtures pretty much speaks for itself.
Should Angel get some service from ex-Zaragoza man Alberto Celades and great-winger-from-last-year Dane Richards, they may threaten the Galaxy’s goal. But, as Juan Carlos Osorio just can’t seem to put anything inspiring together on attack or defense, the Red Bulls are most likely going through the motions and getting ready for next year.
Result: Galaxy 2-0 Red Bulls (Joe says Galaxy, 3-1). The Red Bulls will sell out Giants Stadium, but everyone will be there to cheer on David Beckham, kicking the home team while they’re down. Becks scores, Landon scores, and the press has a field-day recapping the “drama.”
As for the rest of this week’s games:
Houston Dynamo (31 pts/17 GP) at Toronto FC (25 pts/17 GP): ESPN’s Game of the Week. Thanks to ESPN’s smart thinking, Becks’ return to MLS will not be on basic cable, isolating 60 million households who want to see him. Great marketing job, MLS and ESPN.
To be fair, this game is the most consequential. Houston will be looking to extend its lead in the West, while the surging Reds will be looking to take crucial points in a log-jammed Eastern conference.
The difference? The Dynamo are without Brian Ching, Stu Holden, and defense. Toronto, losing virtually no one to the Gold Cup, has finally discovered its form in front of goal, with Chad Barrett and Pablo Vitti leading the way. What’s more, they’ll be hungrier for a win after suffering a 3-0 rout at Houston earlier in the season.
Result: Dynamo 1-2 TFC (Joe says Dynamo, 2-1). If TFC are ever going to beat Houston, this will be the time and place.
Real Salt Lake (20 pts/16 GP) at Columbus Crew (24 pts/17 GP): The Lakers have their own drama, with dynamic forward Yura Movsisyan threatening to leave RSL for Denmark, then committing to stay for the rest of the season.
It didn’t seem to get in the way of a well-earned win against Club America last week without Captain Beckerman. The Crew, on the other hand, lucked out last week with an amazing goalkeeping performance from Will Hesmer. Chad Marshall’s absence showed just how important he is for the Crew.
Result: RSL 2-1 Crew (Joe says Draw, 1-1). With the Crew defense resembling a sieve, Hesmer won’t have the game of his life twice in a row.
Colorado Rapids (24 pts/16 GP) at DC United (24 pts/17 GP): An intriguing rematch. Both teams have incredibly inconsistent form right now and lose only one player to Gold Cup duty, but the Rapids blanked United 3-0 a month ago at DSG Park. United will have revenge on the mind. And they’ll be at home. Result: Rapids 0-1 United (Joe says United, 2-0).
San Jose Earthquakes (13 pts/16 GP) at Chicago Fire (25 pts/16 GP): How many chances were Brian McBride and the Fire attack denied against the Crew last week? They’ll take out all that frustration on the unlucky Earthquakes, who hope to turn their fortunes around on the road against the Eastern leaders. Result Quakes 1-3 Fire (Joe says Fire, 1-0).
Chivas USA (27 pts/16 GP) at New England Revolution (17 pts/14 GP): Both teams are in poor form, but at least the Revs can blame injuries. They also get Shalrie Joseph back. That should be a relief. Result: Chivas 1-1 Revs (Joe says Chivas, 2-1).
Correct picks will receive two points, correct scores will receive a bonus point. If you would like to be a guest prognosticator, please leave a note below, on my bulletin board, or in a private message.
Matt: 0-0, 0 pts.
Guest Prognosticators: 0-0, 0 pts.