LOS ANGELES (9-11-6) vs. NEW YORK (12-11-6)
Thursday, 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2
David Beckham is healthy enough to be considered for selection. Give the Galaxy credit for being as vaguely specific as possible as it plays another must-not-lose match on national television.
As long as it avoids defeat, the Galaxy will head to Chicago for the season finale Sunday knowing a win clinches a playoff spot. It trails the Fire by four points, which it can wipe out by either a) winning both games, or b) tying New York and beating Chicago.
In the case of b), Chicago and Los Angeles would be tied with 37 points but the Galaxy has already won the first tiebreaker, head-to-head results. If the results are reversed -- a victory over New York and a tie with Chicago - the Fire will qualify ahead of Los Angeles, 38 points to 37.
Other teams will be dramatically affected by the Galaxy's fate. Kansas City (37 points) can clinch by beating FC Dallas Saturday regardless of what the Galaxy does, yet if LA loses, it could squeak through even with a loss. Colorado (35 points) must beat Real Salt Lake and hope for a bunch of stuff to happen.
Coach Frank Yallop has all but ruled Beckham, and defender Abel Xavier -- whose injury absence has gone virtually unnoticed - out of this match against a Red Bulls team with little to play for. Five wins in a row doesn't beg for change.
Pregame ceremonies will be held to honor veteran midfielder Cobi Jones, who is retiring after this season, unless he changes his mind, which he says he won't. He'll be pumped, and with Landon Donovan in his best club form for quite a while, the Galaxy may be too sharp for New York.
Claudio Reyna is hobbled by a sprained toe and Dema Kovalenko is suspended. Juan Pablo Angel is one goal behind D.C. United's Luciano Emilio for the goalscoring title, 20 to 19, and if he plays can use this match to fine-tune his finishing.
For the Galaxy, defender Ty Harden (hip) is listed as doubtful and Beckham is officially questionable.
Angel scored on his RBNY debut when Los Angeles beat New York, 3-1, May 8 in the Open Cup. Beckham and Angel dazzled when the Red Bulls beat the Galaxy, 5-4, at the Meadowlands Aug. 18 in a real sizzler.
Angel slipped a free kick under a jumping defensive wall for an early 1-0 lead, Beckham set up two goals with free kicks of his own to erase that deficit, Carlos Pavon and Jozy Altidore each scored twice, Clint Mathis pounded home a volley, and Angel nicked the winner on the rebound of another Mathis blast. The crowd of 66,237 had a rather good time.
New York opens the Eastern Conference semifinals Oct. 27 against New England, so a few regulars will play limited minutes and others will skip the match entirely. Los Angeles faces a long flight and quick turnaround before facing the Fire Sunday afternoon, so it too must marshal its resources. With at least one more point in the bag, of course.