Positional Breakdown: LA Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls

Who's got the advantage in Friday's Showdown in Tinseltown?


Donovan Ricketts has been a solid presence in goal for the Galaxy all season. With 10 shutouts, he is tied for second in the league behind only RSL’s Nick Rimando. Ricketts almost suffered a Robert Green moment against D.C. United, but recovered nicely and was not at fault for Andy Najar’s goal. Still, the Galaxy have not recorded a clean sheet in over a month. Their last one? Aug. 14 against the Red Bulls.

GOALKEEPERS

 

Bouna Coundoul is one of the top four ‘keepers in the league but is also a volatile presence in goal. His oft-maligned goal kicks will have the Red Bulls tearing their hair out in light of Pat Onstad’s gaffes against the Wizards on Wednesday. Coundoul can be a shutdown goalkeeper, but he will have to be at his very best to keep Buddle and Donovan in check.

Yes, it’s true: The last shutout the Galaxy recorded was against the Red Bulls. Since then, things have gotten iffy. Defensive miscues have abounded, and even their last two victories have been blemished by easily preventable goals. The suspension of Omar Gonzalez due to yellow card accumulation is a serious concern against NY’s dangerous offense, though Yohance Marshall filled in decently in his debut last week.

DEFENDERS

The Red Bulls have had a defensive renaissance this year with the emergence of Tim Ream. But Ream looked badly at fault on a goal by FC Dallas’ Milton Rodriguez last week. An injury to Chris Albright may force recent acquisition Carey Talley to make his RBNY debut. Can he shore up a defense that has allowed the second most shots on goal this season?

Dema Kovalenko’s return from injury has been a massive boost for the Galaxy. The Ukrainian scored a rare goal against Columbus, but has impressed mostly with his typical hard play and positioning alongside the more dynamic Juninho. The addition of David Beckham will also provide dangerous crosses from a wide position. Oh, and there's Landon Donovan. Enough said.

MIDFIELDERS

The emergence of Rafa Márquez as a playmaker has been a welcome surprise, but the tenacious Mexican is no stranger to hard tackles if the need arises. Joel Lindpere has improved of late in linking with the strikers. Dane Richards’s speed could be the key to the match—can he get behind Todd Dunivant, and how often?

LA’s strike tandem is a curious one. Edson Buddle is, of course, leading the league in goals, and he scored the only goal of these two teams’ last meeting when he slipped in behind the defense. But recent starter Jovan Kirovski has had a resurgence as a target forward. Or LA could go with Donovan up top so his pace and passing can open up space for Buddle. Either way, it's potent.

FORWARDS

Thierry Henry’s absence may take some of the star power away from this matchup, but Juan Pablo Ángel’s return provides a bright punch. With Márquez, Richards and Lindpere feeding him service, he’ll get chances. But how will the chemistry be between him and recent acquisition Mehdi Ballouchy, whose arrival caused Ángel’s benching last time out?

LA’s defense is stretched a little thin in the absence of Gonzalez and Gregg Berhalter, who has not played a league game since the Galaxy last played the Red Bulls. But Mike Magee and Chris Birchall give manager Bruce Arena some options in the midfield, and young speedster Tristen Bowen could be a late-game spark.

BENCH

Midfielder Carl Robinson makes his return to the team after a leave of absence to visit his dying father in Wales. Manager Hans Backe has talked about Salou Ibrahim possibly starting, though more likely he will come on in the second half to give the Red Bulls a more power-oriented attacking look.

After a white-hot start to the season, July and August saw LA lose some momentum. But back-to-back victories have restored confidence in Carson, and it will be up to Arena to keep them on track. He’s coached in marquee matchups many times, so the glare of the spotlight won’t get in the way of getting things done.

MANAGERS

Ángel was visibly upset when asked about his benching earlier this week, and Backe will have to manage that before kick off—and beyond. Backe has cobbled together a good team and built their confidence slowly over the season, but, as he readily admits, the Red Bulls have not done well against MLS’ top teams. He needs to be the one to change that.