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Commentary: Stage is set for massive LA-NY showdown

NEW YORK — Two weeks ago, reeling from a three-game winless streak, the LA Galaxy seemed teetering on the brink of a late-season swoon. Their steel-belted defense suddenly looked leaky, and the high-powered offense managed only one goal over the three games. And that from centerback Omar Gonzalez, rather than from the fearsome attacking duo of Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle.

At that point, the LA-New York match scheduled for next Friday (ESPN2, 11 pm ET) and circled by everyone for its marquee potential—five DPs, Supporters' Shield ramifications, playoff position fight—had perhaps lost some of its luster.

No more. The shine is back.

LA's two wins in a row—first, their overpowering of Columbus, then their come-from-behind win over D.C. United—made an emphatic point: Write this Galaxy side off at your own peril.

Donovan hadn't scored in the run of play in months. Then he notched both the goals in the 2-1 victory over United. Buddle scored against Columbus and looked dangerous again. And David Beckham made his second straight appearance after recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, with the promise of a possible first start of the season against New York.

Meanwhile, the revamped New York Red Bulls have found their DP-powered rhythm. In spite of the obviously scintillating form of Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas, pundits have started calling the Red Bulls the most feared team in MLS. Thierry Henry has discovered his scoring touch and Rafa Márquez has shown everyone exactly what it means to be a midfield general.

They've posted a 3-1-1 record over their last five, including thumping wins over Toronto and Colorado; the only blemish is a 1-0 loss away to RSL, not a bad result considering the seeming impenetrabiltiy of Rio Tinto.

The Red Bulls remain firmly in control of second place in the East, now just three points behind Columbus for the conference lead.

And so, what are we left with? Well, these two teams have never faced each other this late in the season while both are this high in the standings. That's a little convoluted, but it's just another way of say that Friday night's game is perhaps the biggest, most important LA-NY match up in MLS history.

If you're a fan of either club, this is the must-see game of the season. Hell, even if you're a fan of another club, you have to watch this. Because what's at stake goes well beyond LA or the Big Apple. With all the big names, the attention this match is sure to get worldwide, and the possible ramifications for the standings, this game should be a high point for MLS.

Now let's hope the players do their part and produce the thrill we all hope for.