CARSON, Calif. – Two big-city, playoff-bound teams. World-renowned soccer stars. A potential sold-out crowd in a soccer-specific stadium.
Such things were once imagined by league officials, and Friday that scenario will become a reality.
The Los Angeles Galaxy will host the New York Red Bulls at Home Depot Center Friday in what figures to be an illustrious meeting between a pair of MLS Cup contenders.
“The game means a lot to both teams,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “It’s going to be an evening to celebrate where this league has come. It’s going to be a fabulous night for MLS.”
Although these same teams met at Red Bull Arena in August, that meeting lacked David Beckham’s on-field participation. Beckham was on the bench for the game but he had been back with the team less than one week. Now, Beckham has two games under his belt and figures to play in the match.
For Beckham, the opportunity to play against former English Premiership rival Thierry Henry is enticing, particularly since this will be their first chance to play one another in the United States.
“I’ve played against Thierry so many times. We’ve always said it would be nice to play together one day but it’s not happened yet,” Beckham said. “Rafa Márquez and obviously Henry going to Red Bulls is a great thing for the league, great thing for New York.”
There were questions about Henry’s participation, however. The Frenchman was involved in a bit of controversy last week against FC Dallas. After a New York goal, Henry tried to kick the ball, which stood near FC Dallas’ Kevin Hartman, knocked it off the keeper, who went down immediately with a sprained MCL.
Henry did not receive a yellow card for the kick. Had Henry seen yellow, he would have been sent off as he’d been booked prior.
“It’s bizarre,” Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said. “I’ve never seen anything like that. I don’t think anyone has. Their team didn’t react either. It was a strange one.”
On Monday, Henry was fined $2,000 by the league for the incident; however, he did not receive any suspension, meaning he is available for Friday night’s visit to the Home Depot Center.
The chance to watch Los Angeles’ stars go up against New York’s stars in a meaningful late-season match is enticing and long anticipated. It was not until New York got serious and began to put some financial resources into their club that this sort of matchup was possible, Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said.
“The league has waited a long time for both us and New York [to be] playing well,” he said. “What I like about New York—and they’re similar to our team—is they’re willing to spend money, willing to take chances.
As a player you want to be in a position to compete every year, to win a championship. [AEG president and CEO] Tim [Leiweke] has done that from day one here and now other teams are starting to catch up.”
At the very beginning of MLS, in April 1996, New York and Los Angeles squared off in a big-city matchup. The Galaxy beat the-then New York/New Jersey MetroStars, 2-1, at the Rose Bowl in the first-ever game for both clubs.
But the two teams quickly went in different directions. The Galaxy reached the 1996 MLS Cup, went on to win two MLS Cups and played in their sixth league final last year. New York have only one MLS Cup appearance in their history.
Now, though, both New York and LA are legitimate contenders.
“When they envisioned this league, they probably wanted to have something like this—the big cities getting after each other a little bit,” said Arena, who coached New York in 2006-07. “Give Red Bull a lot of credit. It’s been a fabulous ownership group to get that situation right.
"They have obviously one of the finer soccer stadiums in this country; they’ve invested deeply in their team and have done a great job. The acquisition of Henry and Márquez, and along with [Juan Pablo] Ángel and others, they have the star power.”