[MLS SPOTLIGHT] What had been billed as a Western Conference showdown between Seattle and defending champion Los Angles won't be quite as epic as advertised. According to a team spokesman, the Galaxy will be without its three Designated Players in addition to starting keeper Josh Saunders for the pairing (10 p.m. ET, Direct Kick) of last year’s MLS Cup winner and the three-time defending U.S. Open Cup titlist.
MLS announced Tuesday that Saunders, who took the starting job from Jamaican international Donovan Ricketts last season and backstopped L.A.’s run to the championship, has entered the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health program. The length of his absence from the team hasn’t been determined but it’s likely he’s been enrolled in a 30-day program similar to those assigned in the past to New England midfielder Shalrie Joseph and former D.C. United attacker Santino Quaranta.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the team was informed by the league Friday that Saunders would be ineligible to play until he completes a treatment program. He didn’t play in a 1-1 tie with FC Dallas Saturday, with “personal reasons” cited for his absence. Bill Gaudette replaced him and will take over as the starter for the short-term at least. The former Crew keeper hadn’t played an MLS game since the 2006 season.
The Times reported that the Galaxy insisted Saunders did not fail a league-administered drug test.
The team spokesman said David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane would not travel north. The coaching staff decided not to risk the players on Seattle’s artificial surface with a home game against New York coming up Saturday and a busy load of games scheduled for May. Donovan and Keane are nursing minor knocks, and Coach Bruce Arena would rather not play Beckham in three games during a seven-game span. Donovan, Beckham and Keane played the full 90 minutes against FCD.
The Sounders returned Sunday from a 2-1 win in Chicago that prompted MLS to mete out fines and one-game suspensions to Chicago coach Frank Klopasand defender Jalil Anibaba, who scuffled with Sounders’ personnel after a vicious challenge by Anibaba. The only disciplinary action taken by the league against Seattle was a fine of undisclosed amount to forward Eddie Johnson for making an obscene gesture to the crowd.