The Galaxy are in Quebec for their initial meeting the Montreal Impact, Major League Soccer's latest addition, and they've got a decent idea of what to expect.
Donovan Ricketts, L.A.'s main man in the nets the last three seasons, is the Impact's goalkeeper -- Bruce Arena this week proclaimed the big Jamaican the “best goalkeeper in the league” -- and all the veterans have plenty of experience battling former Kansas City captain Davy Arnaud, Chicago/Philly winger Justin Mapp and Chivas USA forward Justin Braun, among others.
The most important man for Montreal also is a familiar figure.
First-year manager Jesse Marsch, the former Chivas USA captain who is trying to build a winner as quickly as he can -- and is getting good grades so far -- was a Major League Soccer rookie under Arena, played four seasons for Galaxy associate head coach Dave Sarachan, and was an assistant coach on the U.S. side that Landon Donovan led to the knockout stage in the 2010 World Cup.
“When I got to Chicago [in 2002], Jesse was part of a real core of guys who had been in the league ... a very experienced guy, a real leader,” said Sarachan, the Chicago Fire's head coach for six seasons. “He's a cerebral guy on the field. We would always say his soccer IQ was quite high, and he was one of these players who really analyzed things and really got into a deeper level of the game. I figured at some point it would translate in his career, if he decided to be a coach. He was a guy who really thought the game and analyzed and discussed a lot of what goes into building a team and being a team.”
Marsch has done a pretty good job so far in his first head job, posting a 3-1-1 mark in Montreal's last five games -- including a stunning 2-0 triumph last week at Sporting Kansas City. The Impact (3-5-2) seek a third successive victory Saturday afternoon against the Galaxy, a game that will draw in excess of 60,000 to Olympic Stadium.
Marsch, a holding midfielder who retired following the 2009 season to join mentor Bob Bradley's national team staff, spent his first MLS season, in 1997, at D.C. United under Arena, who calls him a “bright energetic guy. He's a good player, too, I think maybe even underrated as a player.”
Arena, who in 1998 sent Marsch to Chicago to join his old Princeton University coach Bradley with the expansion Fire, says he could tell even then that coaching was in his future.
“Jesse was coaching all the time,” Arena said. “I'd [wager] when Jesse got out of the hospital, two days old, he was coaching. He's opinionated, but bright. He's got all the ingredients to be a very good coach.”
ANOTHER STEP: Saturday's game is a vital encounter for L.A. (3-5-1) , which has scored just one goal in the last 321 minutes and is coming off successive shutout losses at Seattle and at home last weekend against New York.
“There's been a sense of urgency for a few weeks,” Donovan said. “Last year it seemed like a sense of urgency all year, no matter what, and I think we have to get back to that, because I think we play well when we have that.”
Donovan says he was “frustrated with how I'm playing and how we're playing, and I want to turn things around as quickly as possible,” and defender Todd Dunivant says doing so requires that L.A. “really be a blue-collar, hard-nosed team that's difficult to play against,” like last year.
Right now opponents are finding too much space to attack -- the Galaxy has no shutouts in 11 games, all competitions, after posting 22 in 46 competitive matches last year -- while L.A. struggles to penetrate against its foes' defensive game plans.
“I think it's a mentality, and the fact is we need to get back to being a blue-collar team that has the defensive mentality first,” Dunivant said. “That doesn't mean we sit back and just defend, but it means when we lose the ball, we're working hard to get after it, and if we can't get after it right away, we're in good blocks and we're backing up the guy next to us. ... I think we know that we obviously have a team that can be successful, so we're not looking to blow this thing up by any means. ...
“You win your individual matchup, and if enough guys do that, you win your team matchup. If we have that, we're going to win a lot of games, and we're going to make the playoffs, and we're going to be a team that I wouldn't want to play.”
WORTH NOTING: The Galaxy have lost back-to-back games for the first time since August 2010. Both of those were shutouts, too. They were last shut out in successive games last year, in 0-0 draws against San Jose and Seattle. ... L.A. is 3-0-0 when it nets the first goal. When it doesn't, it's 0-6-2, CONCACAF Champions League included. ... This is actually the second meeting between the clubs, and the first didn't go well for the Galaxy. The Impact dominated L.A. in a 3-0 preseason victory Feb. 14 at Home Depot Center, with Sanna Nyassi, Zarek Valentin and Evan James scoring goals. ... Bill Gaudette, who remains in the nets during Josh Saunders' absence, played in nine North American Soccer League games for Montreal last year, posting a 2-5-2 record with four shutouts. ... The Impact have a 198-minute MLS shutout streak going. ...
Montreal was eliminated Wednesday in the four-team Canadian Championship, falling on 2-0 aggregate with a 2-0 loss at Toronto. Marsch was not pleased: “I saw 11 guys that weren't ready for a real game. If you show up to play like that, I don't care who it is ... you're gonna get your [butt] whipped. That's what happened to us tonight.” ... Donovan says Marsch is “kind of in the same mold” as Bradley -- they “see the game the same way, coach the game the same way.” ... Montreal has been awarded a league-best three penalty kicks, all in the past four weeks. ... Sinisa Ubiparipovic has two goals for the Impact -- on just two shots. ... The Galaxy heads from Montreal to Washington, where President Obama on Tuesday will honor the club's MLS Cup championship last season. The players from last season who did not travel to Quebec will join the team Monday in the capital.
Head coach: Jesse Marsch.
Key players: G Donovan Ricketts, D Nelson Rivas, M Patrice Bernier, D Matteo Ferrari, M Justin Mapp, M Davy Arnaud, F Bernardo Corradi.
Local guys: D Tyson Wahl (Newport Beach), plus Ricketts (ex-Galaxy) and F Justin Braun and D Zarek Valentin (ex-Chivas USA).
Update: The Impact made the move from the second division to MLS this season, following the Pacific Northwest clubs' path, and are starting to show a real sturdiness and -- with the Eastern Conference considerably weaker than the Western -- look like a legitimate playoff contender. They've won two in a row, 2-0 wins over Portland and at Eastern leader Sporting Kansas City, have a three-game unbeaten streak and are 3-1-1 in their last five, numbers the Galaxy would kill for. Italians Corradi (team-best three goals) and Ferrari have made immediate splashes and Colombian Rivas, playing in his first competitive match in 14 months, had a superb debut last week at K.C.
Out: D Omar Gonzalez (left ACL tear), D Leonardo (right ACL/LCL tears).
Questionable: G Brian Perk (sports hernia surgery).
Out: D Josh Gardner (left hamstring tendinitis), F Evan James (fractured nose); D Zarek Valentin (right calf contusion).
Probable: M Justin Mapp (left hamstring strain).
Olympic Stadium (Montreal), 1 p.m.
Referee: Jasen Anno
TV: KDOC/Channel 56 (English) and KWHY/Channel 22 (Spanish)
Radio: K-Talk (KTLK-AM/1150, English) and ESPN Deportes (KWKW-AM/1330, Spanish)