There are pluses and minuses to so congested a schedule, the Galaxy says, and how well they manage their roster now -- before things turn ugly -- could determine what riches await in the fall.
The Galaxy faces the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night at Home Depot Center, the middle game of their third “three-in-a-week” stretch of the season since the second week of April, and head coach Bruce Arena has decisions to make on whom to “rotate” from his roster.
The idea is to keep everyone fresh for a brutal finish to the season, with 28 games over the final four months (one or two less with a quick U.S. Open Cup exit) -- or one every 4.32 days from June 25 to Oct. 23. Followed by playoffs.
“We knew from the beginning that this was going to be a very demanding year for us,” said forward Juan Pablo Angel, 35, who could get a rest against the Dynamo. “There's a number of competitions [in which] we're going to be involved, and we got to be prepared. The guys that aren't playing that much are going to be recalled, and they're going to be needed for the team. It's important to have that.”
One starting job certainly opens, with David Beckham “resting” -- he instead played 90 minutes, double the supposed max, in Tuesday's Gary Neville testimonial in England and will join up with the team before Saturday's game at New England.
Arena also could choose to give a break to a backline player (Frankie Hejduk has seen little playing time, new signing Kyle Davies is available, and Gregg Berhalter needs to be introduced to the mix at some point) or give reserve players some valuable time (and not just Michael Stephens and Chris Birchall, but Bryan Jordan and Hector Jimenez).
“More than anything, it's a great opportunity for guys to play, who haven't played, and we'll see [against Houston] a few guys that haven't played as much,” said Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, who could miss nearly a month while away for the CONCACAF Gold Cup -- providing an opportunity for somebody to play.
“That's the beauty of this team … as Bruce puts together a team where he's confident putting anybody into the lineup at any time and knowing he'll do well.”
AERIAL BATTLES: Omar Gonzalez and Donovan Ricketts will be the most important men on the field for the Galaxy, which faces a challenge denying Houston's aerial game.
The Dynamo deliver superb service from both wings, especially Brad Davis on the left, and have giants up top to finish the crosses. Cam Weaver is 6-foot-4, and the other forward, rookie Will Bruin, is 6-2. Geoff Cameron, a force out of midfield, is 6-3. And defender Bobby Boswell, at 6-2, comes forward on set pieces.
“We're going to have to do a good job of putting bodies on them and getting in their way, if not winning the ball,” said Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant. “They're dangerous on set pieces, they're dangerous from their wide areas … we got to do a good job of cutting off that service.”
Gonzalez, at 6-5, is the only Galaxy backliner with the size to match Houston, and goalkeeper Ricketts is big (6-4), athletic and aggressive enough to pluck crosses before the Dynamo get to them.
MISSING: Center backs Leonardo and Sean Alvarado are out for the year with torn knee ligaments. Forward Adam Cristman, questionable as he returns from a knee injury, is the only other player on the league injury report.
WORTH NOTING: Two more yellow cards, and Juninho will be suspended. … L.A. hasn't lost in its last five meetings with the Dynamo, since 2008, and swept last year's games. Houston last beat the Galaxy at HDC in 2007. … Donovan and Dunivant played for Houston coach Dominic Kinnear with the San Jose Earthquakes before the club moved to Houston for the 2006 season. … Dunivant has played every minute this season for the Galaxy. Jamaican midfielder Lovel Palmer has done so for the Dynamo, including all 120 minutes of the U.S. Open qualifying loss to Sporting Kansas City. … Nine of 15 goals Houston has scored have come in the final 15 minutes of a half.
The Scotland-born, Bay Area-raised Kinnear is on MLS's first line of coaches. He assisted Frank Yallop when San Jose won MLS Cup titles in 2001 and 2003, guided the Earthquakes to the Supporters' Shield in 2005, then won MLS Cup titles as head coach in the first two seasons after the team moved to Houston. A fine attacking midfielder, Kinnear made 54 appearances for the U.S. national team and played in Mexico and for three MLS clubs.
Three key players
Davis is MLS's most dangerous left winger, and he shares plenty in common with a certain Mr. Beckham, including a piece of the league lead with six assists.
Cameron first emerged as a backline leader for the Dynamo, then turned out to be far more dynamic in midfield.
Bruin is an early choice for best first-year player, with four goals, three in a rout of D.C. United.
The Dynamo (3-3-5) should have been unbeaten through its first seven games, but they're winless in their last four, surrendering a lead in stoppage last week in a 2-2 home draw with New York. Kinnear is still integrating some players into the team, and injury has deprived him of Brian Ching, Danny Cruz and Jermaine Taylor. Houston always will battle, and most telling: they earned ties on the road against Real Salt Lake and New York.
Ching played in eight MLS games and scored a goal for the Galaxy in 2001. … Goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley was on the Galaxy's staff during the 2007 season. … Kinnear was based in Mission Viejo during the buildup to the 1994 World Cup.
Ching (plantar fasciitis) and forward Calen Carr (concussion) are out. Cruz (hyperextended knee) is doubtful after returning to training this week. Weaver (sprained ankle) is probable.
At Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m.
TV: Prime Ticket
Radio: ESPN Deportes (KWKU-AM/1220, Spanish)
Referee: Chris Penso