[MLS] The Los Angeles Galaxy (with David Beckham back in the team) hosts the New York Red Bulls (without injured Thierry Henry) Friday night in what should be one of the more exciting clashes of the regular season. The coach of perhaps the Galaxy's fiercest rival could hardly be described as neutral, yet Frank Yallop is unequivocal about which is the best team in MLS.
"They've been going through a rough spell of late and we got them today, but they're the best team," he said after a 1-0 San Jose Quakes victory over Los Angeles earlier this month. "Or one of them."
The Galaxy and another team that aspires to be the best, New York, meet Friday night at Home Depot Center. The allure of their massive markets and Designated Players, and their chances of meeting in the final Nov. 21 in Toronto are driving great speculation as to which of them is superior.
“We’d all like to win every game, but they’re having their spell at the right time,” said Yallop of a span during which the Galaxy won only once in five league games and fell to Puerto Rico Islanders in Concacaf Champions’ League play.
That spell has been broken, though the Galaxy didn’t look all that impressive last week until Landon Donovan hit a pair of late goals to down D.C. United, 2-1, and clinch a playoff spot. A week earlier, Los Angeles pummeled Columbus, 3-1, to apparently exorcise a black patch of conceding early goals and generating few chances.
Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe played the same theme in a conference call Tuesday previewing the match, which New York can use to burnish a rather poor record against the best of MLS. “We have played Real Salt Lake, Columbus twice, the Galaxy at home, and we haven’t picked up a point against the big three teams,” said Backe. “It’s a little bit special to play the cream of the MLS, which the Galaxy are, and see if we can compete.”
When he took his turn on the conference call, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena cited New York’s midfield as perhaps its greatest strength. Former Rapid Mehdi Ballouchy has been added to the mix; he scored a goal in New York’s 2-2 tie with FC Dallas last week to add another weapon to a unit already regarded as very good.
[“Rafael] Marquez we have the greatest respect for,” said Arena of the Mexican international who anchors the squad. “He’s an excellent passer of the ball. He can both attack and defend. We know his quality. I think the other player that hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention this year is [Tony] Tchani. I think he’s been excellent and has done a great job. With those two in the center of the field, it opens a lot for [Dane] Richards, and [Joel] Lindpere has been excellent.”
A mistake by Marquez provided Edson Buddle with the opportunity he buried for the only goal in the teams’ previous meeting this season Aug. 14 -- a 1-0 Galaxy win. For the rematch, New York won’t have Thierry Henry – sidelined with a knee problem the club has said he incurred two weeks ago – and the Galaxy will have David Beckham, who has played two games after sitting out since late March with a knee injury. Arena has hinted Beckham may get his first start of the season against New York.
“David’s coming back is key for them, the timing is good, and he’s a good player,” says Yallop. “Maybe the focus is off the team a little bit and on David, which it always is. But he can handle it and the team can handle it. They’re a full-rounded side.”