Friday's match between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the New York Red Bulls has captured attention for several reasons. With New York bringing their stable of Designated Players to square off against the Galaxy's own DPs, a clash of high-profile players is imminent.
But for Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, the Red Bulls are a worthy team from top to bottom, not just a top-heavy three-man squad.
"Hans has done a wonderful job with the Red Bulls this year," Arena said of his counterpart, New York coach Hans Backe, in a media conference call Tuesday. "They’ve clearly been one of the better teams in the league"
And despite the fact that Thierry Henry was ruled out Tuesday with a knee injury, Arena is looking forward to what he called an "excellent" matchup, bolstered by players such as Juan Pablo Angel, Mehdi Ballouchy, Dane Richards and Rafa Márquez.
"They have plenty of firepower and they’ll definitely be a difficult team to play," Arena said.
While not having to deal with Henry might make life easier for the Galaxy's depleted back line, not having the opportunity to watch the French superstar in action is a bit of a missed opportunity for Arena.
"I would have loved to have seen him play in the Home Depot Center," Arena said. "A player the caliber of Henry ... it would have been [good to see] how our team would respond to a player [of his] caliber."
Arena's team will prepare once more to play against another of New York's stars. Márquez played against the Galaxy on Aug. 14, a 1-0 Galaxy win in Red Bull Arena. The Mexican National Team captain is just a portion of what Arena thinks is a "special" midfield.
"Márquez we have the greatest respect for," he said. "He’s an excellent passer of the ball. He can both attack and defend. We know his quality.
"I think the other player that hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention this year is [Tony] Tchani. I think he’s been excellent and has done a great job. With those two in the center of the field, it opens a lot for Richards, and [Joel] Lindpere has been excellent."
The Galaxy, though, also have their own special midfielder in David Beckham. The former England captain has played twice in as many games, increasing his playing time from 20 minutes to 37 in the process.
Arena did not rule out the possibility of Beckham starting against New York.
"That decision has not been made at this point," Arena said. "We’ve taken a couple of days off. [Tuesday] was the first day back from training and we went light. On Thursday, we should have a better feel for that."
Los Angeles reached 50 points and qualified for the playoffs with last Saturday's 2-1 win over D.C. United. Qualifying for the playoffs, though, is just one small goal the Galaxy set for themselves. The bigger goals are within reach, and Friday's game will help the club take steps towards accomplishing them.
"All of these games, the last five games are very important," Arena said. "We have a lot of goals in mind. In order to accomplish them we’re going to have to secure points at home.
"Friday night is very important. Our goal is to win the Supporters' Shield and also to have home-field advantage in the playoffs. In order to do that, we have to win each and every game."
Taking care of business against New York, thus, is primordial, and Arena expects his team to play more like they did against Columbus than DC.
"I expect us to come out with high energy," Arena said. "If we’re not able to do that, we’re going to posisiton ourselves poorly. The game Friday is very important for our team and certainly important for the Red Bulls and I expect our team to be ready to play."