The Galaxy heads into Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup game in North Carolina without seven starters, and that includes David Beckham, all three established backliners and those two big names who are off playing for their national teams.
It's a reserve side they'll field for the third-round game against the Carolina RailHawks, but that no reflection on how much L.A. wants to win. Nor the clamor to watch them try to do so.
Winning a third title in America's biggest cup competition would be nice, sure, but the Galaxy could use any sort of victory about now. They're at the bottom of Major League Soccer's Western Conference (at 3-8-2) after failing to win in their last seven MLS games -- with four losses in their last five outings.
And stars or no stars, the fans around Raleigh and Durham snapped up the tickets as soon as they went on sale, all 8,000-plus, with the RailHawks adding a temporary stand to increase capacity at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.
“We know it’s a tough environment to play against,” Galaxy forward Edson Buddle told media in Cary on Monday. “I heard there’s going to be a few more people at the game than normal. ... It seems every team we play against, they really look forward to this game, and they raise their game.”
The RailHawks will need to. They're 0-4-5 in the second-tier North American Soccer League, and they've been struggling since former manager Martin Rennie, two-thirds through last season, was announced last August as the Vancouver Whitecaps' future coach, a deal took effect in November. Carolina was the NASL's best team at the time, and it is 4-10-6 since.
Colin Clarke, who guided the Puerto Rico Islanders (with Galaxy goalkeeper Bill Gaudette) past L.A. in the CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round two years ago, is trying to restore some luster to the RailHawks. He's got an experienced roster, with nine former MLS players -- including veteran forward Jason Garey, who spent five years with Columbus and last season at Houston, plus former FC Dallas/Columbus goalkeeper Ray Burse and former New England forward Zack Schilawski -- and former U.S. youth national team star Gale Agbossoumonde, on loan from Portugal's Estoril Praia.
“We have a lot of talent, a lot of guys who played in MLS,” former Colorado/San Jose/Kansas City midfielder Amir Lowery told local media. “We’re not necessarily strangers to that level, so we’re not afraid of anybody.”
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena understands the lower division-versus-upper division dynamic that will be at work.
“It always does play a role [in these games],” he said. “Every time you play a lower-division team, they're certainly going to be ready to play, and the game means a lot to them.”
It means something to the Galaxy, too, even without Beckham, defenders A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant and Sean Franklin, and injured midfielder Juninho. They were sent home to L.A. after Saturday's loss in the Houston heat, which was L.A.'s third game in eight days, making this the fourth in 11. (The RailHawks had the weekend off.)
And Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, of course, are away on international duty.
“We obviously played a lot of games in a week. Some of our guys needed a break, so other guys got to step up,” forward Chad Barrett said. “This is an opportunity for players who haven’t been able to play so much, even me, to get in there and show that I deserve to be starting with the regular team on a regular basis. ... There’s a bunch of guys that were drafted this year, second-year players and some veterans. We play in reserve games together, we like playing together, and that’s pretty much what's going to get put out there, mostly a reserve team, the second team, and we’re going to come out flying against them, I think.”
WORTH NOTING: The game will be streamed on the RailHawks' and Galaxy's websites. ... The winner will be home for the fourth round next Tuesday, against the winner of Tuesday night's Chivas USA-Ventura County Fusion game at Ventura College. ... The RailHawks routed Irvine's PSA Elite, 6-0, in the second round, with Brian Shriver scoring four goals. Shriver and former New York/Philadelphia forward Nick Zimmerman have four goals apiece in NASL play. ... Beckham is soon off for home, to be honored at Saturday's England-Belgium game at Wembley as one of five players to be capped 100 times for England. ... Donovan, who scored three goals in the U.S. national team's 5-1 victory Saturday over Scotland, leads the Americans against Brazil on Wednesday in Landover, Md. Keane and Ireland play Hungary next Monday in Budapest, then open Euro 2012 on June 10 against Croatia. ... The Galaxy has an MLS Reserve League match Saturday night at Portland.