LOS ANGELES vs. CHIVAS USA (aggregate: 2-2), 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes
After managing just two goals in their three regular-season meetings, the Home Depot Center neighbors each rattled in a pair amid rampant defensive errors as they tied, 2-2, in the first leg. If the Galaxy wins, it hosts Seattle or Houston in the conference final; a victory for Chivas USA would sent it on the road.
Which team can break down the other, if both buckle down tightly to avoid a recurrence of abysmal defending in the first leg?
Los Angeles fields the divine duo of Landon Donovan and David Beckham, of course, yet Edson Buddle has looked livelier and sharper the past few games. The dangerously bending balls swung in by left mid Eddie Lewis are bound to produce something, especially with Chivas USA keeper Zach Thornton - perhaps befuddled by afternoon shadows at HDC - not like his usually secure self, and prone in recent weeks to challenging anything in the air, be it a cross, corner, or wayward carrier pigeon.
Maykel Galindo's pace burned Los Angeles for a goal in the first leg and is a concern for Galaxy centerbacks Omar Gonzalez and Gregg Berhalter. Right back Sean Franklin also struggled in the first leg as missed tackles and blown assignments provided Chivas USA with plenty of time and space.
The leadership and bite of Chivas USA's Jesse Marsch (concussion) will be missed, and central defender Yamith Cuesta is yet another player whose boneheadedness belied his solid play during the regular season. Sacha Kljestan can cut open the Galaxy defense, but he'll need space that the mobility of Galindo and Michael Lahoud and Jesus Padilla must provide. Coach Preki also has alternatives up top in Eduardo Lillingston (eight goals in the regular season) and the rugged, honest, and aptly named Justin Braun.
A groin strain kept Galaxy midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi out of game one, and the Galaxy left huge gaps in the middle that Dema Kovalenko couldn't always cover. If that dynamic recurs the Gonzalez-Berhalter central pairing will have to endure severe pressure, and keeper Donovan Ricketts will be just as busy - and just as aghast at his defense - as in the first leg.
Prediction: Galaxy 2, Chivas USA 1. (Galaxy advances.)