Bruce Arena's Los Angeles Galaxy are left wondering why they recorded another ghastly performance in the CONCACAF Champions League against Alajuelense. The issue for L.A. is that they have the best team in the MLS Eastern Conference up next in the form of the Columbus Crew.
Tired legs? Questionable match fitness? Bad luck and poor defending?
Great teams know how to win on the road regardless of the levels of adversity, and faltering away in matches against decent opposition like La Liga is something Los Angeles can ill afford to make a habit of as they travel to Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, for an important match that is an indicator of the fate regarding the MLS Supporters' Shield.
Los Angeles come into this contest with a record of 16-3-10 (58 points) and have won four out of their last five league matches. Columbus are struggling, having dropped three out of their last five league matches. They are also coming off a tough 1-0 defeat to the Philadelphia Union.
A better outing is needed from Landon Donovan and David Beckham, who were literally missing in action in Costa Rica. Donovan leads the team in goals with 12, while Beckham paces the Galaxy with a club-high 14 assists.
The X-factor for Los Angeles may not, however, be Ireland international Robbie Keane.
Mike Magee, who has proven to produce results in any position on the field, is the club's second-leading goal scorer (with five) and provides an intriguing option for Beckham's set-piece deliveries.
Columbus are led by Andres Mendoza, who has found his scoring form with 11 goals on the year. Also making an impact offensively is Emilio Renteria, with six goals on the season.
The Crew's main provider is Robbie Rogers, who leads Robert Warzycha's club with six assists. Goalkeeper Will Hesmer possesses a 9-10-8 record, a 1.37 goals-against average, a 67-percent save percentage and 75 saves.
Returning to Columbus's lineup is Emmanuel Ekpo, who was serving a red-card suspension last weekend against Philly. Also returning for the Crew is defender Shaun Francis, who could be making his first start after a long layoff due to injury.
Playing smart possession football will be critical for Columbus, who managed just one shot on goal against the Union.
“Possession without purpose is really nothing,” midfielder Danny O’Rourke told thecrew.com's Craig Merz. “We need to get back and have that killer instinct in the final third.”
If Donovan Ricketts is not healthy for Saturday's match with Columbus, goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who struggled against Alajuelense, will be ready to restore some pride back to the Galaxy.
Saunders has a 9-2-4 record to go with a 74.6-percent save percentage, a 1.05 GAA and 44 saves on the year.
Arena will have a huge question to answer regarding the Galaxy back line, which features Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza and Todd Dunivant. Should Arena start the experienced Frankie Hejduk? Or should he take a gamble on Bryan Jordan, who was solid against the Vancouver Whitecaps, but could not translate his success into similar results against La Liga?
The Galaxy will need to overcome match fitness issues against Columbus. A lot of energy was wasted in their defeat to Alajuelense and a similar outing should not go down as unexpected.
Nonetheless, the match may go down to whoever can possess the ball better by capitalizing on the chances both teams generate on Saturday.
“We need to punish teams when we have possession of the ball and we’re dictating the flow of the game,” said Rogers.
Los Angeles needs a pick-me-up, especially with an important set of home contests on the way in the form of CONCACAF action against Morelia and a pivotal league tie with Real Salt Lake. A win against Columbus is absolutely necessary to recoup the momentum lost earlier in the week.
Los Angeles Galaxy 2, Columbus Crew 0
Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. PT/7:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox Sports West and ONN-TV.