CORDOBA, Argentina – For two teams coming in with sizable unbeaten streaks, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chicago Fire both have serious question marks heading into their inter-conference clash on Saturday night.
The Galaxy haven't lost since May 1st, a stretch of 11 matches, but their offense has vanished while their defense has carried the day. David Beckham's back injury, Landon Donovan's recent ineffectiveness and Juan Pablo Angel's season-long slump has the Galaxy in jeopardy of losing their lead atop the Western Conference to red-hot FC Dallas.
Consecutive scoreless shutouts have allowed the other teams near the top of the West to close the gap on Los Angeles, and breaking through against a stingy Fire defense won't be any easier. The last time these teams met, back in April, Bruce Arena played several reserves, and the makeshift team responded with an outstanding performance in a 2-1 win. Given the fact Beckham is nursing a stress fracture in his back, and Donovan looks tired, Arena could be tempted to rest some of his key players in an attempt to jumpstart a struggling attack.
If LA's attack has faded, Chicago's never really showed up this season. Frank Klopas has done well to tighten up the Fire's defense, which has contributed to the team's current eight-match unbeaten streak (1-0-7), but Chicago still hasn't found an answer for an attack that hasn't scored multiple goals in seven consecutive games and is currently tied for the third-lowest goals-per-game ratio in the league.
Newly-acquired striker Cristian Nazarit was expected to come in and provide a spark to the attack, but it has actually been speedy striker Dominic Oduro who has been the real revelation of late, notching an improbable five goals on the season after being acquired from Houston for Calen Carr.
Chicago will be hoping the speed of Oduro, Patrick Nyarko and Marco Pappa can unsettle a Galaxy defense that has had some issues dealing with speed in the past buthas found a good rhythm despite having lost starting centerback Leonardo to a season-ending ACL injury the last time these teams met.
Despite the fact that Chicago hasn't lost in eight matches, the Fire is falling behind in the playoff race because of an inability to win. The Fire has tied 11 of the last 13 matches, with only one win in that stretch. Being tied for the fewest wins in the league with two is disheartening, but Chicago's league-best collection of 12 draws has kept the Fire within striking distance of the playoff pack.
Something needs to change, and quickly, or the Fire will miss the playoffs for a second straight season, something that has never happened in the club's history. Saturday just might offer the chance to grab three points because the Galaxy are looking as vulnerable as they have all season.
And if these teams tie, which almost seems inevitable given their combined 21 draws this season, both Chicago and Los Angeles will keep losing ground in a playoff race where draws just aren't going to cut it much longer.
Coming off an MLS Player of the Week award, Sporting Kansas City's Graham Zusi has reason to smile.
MLS Match Previews
Sporting KC vs. Chivas USA
The Goats surely gained some confidence from beating San Jose, but streaking Sporting KC is playing some of the best soccer in the league. The KC forwards will cause problems for Chivas USA's centerbacks, while Graham Zusi against Nick LaBrocca will be a very good battle.
NY Red Bulls vs. DC United
A five-goal blitz against Toronto FC showed just how dangerous the Red Bulls attack can be, and the forward tandem of Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers has to be chomping at the bit to go at a vulnerable DC back-line. Brandon McDonald's addition should make United's defense tougher, but New York has too many weapons for DC to handle.
Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas
Dallas has been rolling lately, but will face its toughest test in a good while with a trip to RSL, where the home team will be missing Nat Borchers to suspension. Dallas could catch LA for first place with a win, but Real Salt Lake could make a win against Dallas their first step toward getting back into the Western Conference race.
Rapids vs. Whitecaps
Colorado is getting healthy and the Whitecaps are in full crisis mode. Should be an easy Colorado win, right? Book it. Even though the Rapids have had some issues, having a healthy Conor Casey and Omar Cummings will prove too much for the Whitecaps to deal with.
Galaxy vs. Fire
This one seems destined to be a scoreless tie, but don't be surprised if the Fire can upset a vulnerable LA side at home. Landon Donovan has been flat lately, and will need to step his game up to keep LA from dropping points at home again.
Earthquakes vs. Union
San Jose is coming off a tough mid-week loss to Chivas USA, and things don't get any easier against Philly's stingy defense. The Union aren't a traditionally strong road team, but look for Peter Nowak's side to grab some rare road points to keep the pressure on New York atop the East.
Timbers vs. Sounders
Portland has been struggling at home lately, but that won't keep this one from being an intense battle. Look for a goal-fest as the Timbers look to open things up, and Seattle takes advantage of a vulnerable Timbers defense.