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Houston seeks scoring punch; L.A. to test newcomers
by Ridge Mahoney, February 20th, 2008 6:30AM

TAGS:  mls


[PAN-PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIP] Many of the players will be rusty but each team has its own motivation. The Houston Dynamo is two-time defending league champion; the Los Angeles Galaxy has missed the playoffs both of those years. Gamba Osaka, like Houston, will play in a regional club competition next month; Sydney FC thumped the Galaxy, 5-3, in a friendly a few months ago that featured a classic Beckham goal from a free kick, and now gets a chance to take on the American champ. Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney sizes up the field.

"We hope to show powerful, offensive soccer," said Gamba Osaka coach Akira Nishino, preparing for his seventh season in charge. "This is our style. Because we now have good players in the positions in which we felt we needed to strengthen from last year, I really look forward to starting the new season."

Gamba has brought in nine new players. The newcomers include a Brazilian, striker Lucas Severino, and two Japanese internationals: defender Hiroki Mizumoto and former under-20 captain Yohei Fukumoto.

Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit put his team through two-a-days in Southern California to push the players' fitness. After the PPC matches, it heads to South Korea and China for two more games.

Gullit is incorporating acquisitions Raphael Wicky and Celestine Babayaro, but injuries to Wicky - and striker Carlos Ruiz, back with the Galaxy after a three-year Dallas stint - are impairing his efforts. Defender Greg Vanney, acquired from D.C. United after Ty Harden left the team suddenly and eventually announced his retirement, has been included on the team's roster for the competition.

"We have some players who have some injury problems that need to be resolved," said Gullit. "We still take this game very seriously, but you know, we have to take care of our players.

"I speak really highly of the Japanese league. They play some very good football. They've shown that also at various World Cups."

TV: Gamba Osaka vs Los Angeles, Wednesday, 11 p.m. ET, on ESPN Classic.

Houston is in search of scoring punch, having lost Nate Jaqua and Joseph Ngwenya to overseas clubs during the offseason and defender Ryan Cochrane to San Jose in the expansion draft.

It scored just one goal in a pair of games against the Earthquakes last week and is monitoring the health of midfielder Brad Davis and defenders Craig Waibel and Wade Barrett. Midfielder Brian Mullan won't play in the competition.

Hawaiian Brian Ching will need to mark his homecoming with goals if the two-time defending champ is to add to its title collection.

"We're a little banged up coming in," said Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear, who has less than a month before Houston plays Guatemalan club CSD Municipal March 12 in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup. "You'd like to see all your players in preseason but it's not happening. We're looking at maybe three more players for our senior roster. We're on the lookout for a forward or two.

"I've read some stuff about [Sydney FC] online, but I don't know a whole lot about them. I know they played the Galaxy on their tour last fall."

TV: Houston vs. Sydney FC, Thursday, 1:30 a.m. ET/Wednesday 10:30 pm PT, ESPN Classic.

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