The first meeting between the LA Galaxy and the Red Bulls in May looked as if it could be a potential MLS Cup match-up or a preview of a late season Supporters’ Shield race.
When the two teams meet Sunday for their second game, few would’ve expected a match-up between point haves in the Galaxy and have-nots in the Red Bulls.
That night in May the two teams in the league’s biggest markets, with the highest payrolls and the most famous players were at the top of their respective conferences. The Red Bulls were riding a three game win streak with three straight clean sheets. LA had won two of their last three. The Galaxy had 15 points in 9 games and the Red Bulls had 14 in 7.
The two teams traded early goals and the Red Bulls narrowly avoided defeat thanks to Tim Ream’s spectacular effort to deny Landon Donovan a second goal on the night. It wasn’t the kind of draw fans walk away from feeling deflated (Columbus in June) or pleased with the effort (Dallas the next month), but content knowing both teams were, for all intents and purposes, evenly matched for 90 minutes.
Since that match, the Galaxy have consistently answering the bell, posting an 8-1-5 record in MLS play, while the Red Bulls have rolled out the curious long-term strategy of drawing against everyone.
Records aside, the two teams are foils even in a micro sense, with the Galaxy playing the role of the bizarro Red Bulls (or, if you’re an LA supporter, the Red Bulls are the bizzaro Galaxy). From transactions to friendlies to on-field performance, the two teams share parallels, even if the results are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Galaxy stayed at home for their mid-summer international friendlies, playing Real Madrid and Manchester City in the World Football Challenge. The Galaxy smartly played the games as friendlies, not as an opportunity to pick up a pyrrhic victory against a famous club’s out-of-shape reserves. Instead, LA fell 4-1 to Real Madrid and took Manchester City to penalty kicks while testing their depth mid-season.
Personnel-wise, the Galaxy needed help up front, with former Red Bull Juan Pablo Angel not quite working out. Angel was traded to cross-town rival Chivas USA and Ireland international Robbie Keane was brought on. In his first game, the former Spur scored the first of LA’s two goals.
To put it bluntly, the Galaxy have done nearly everything the Red Bulls have failed to do.
While the Red Bulls left North London in late July with the Emirates Cup, Ream relayed the dressing room’s feeling on the trophy to MLSsoccer.com, calling it "semi-legitimate" – cold comfort for fans of a club that’s never won a serious piece of silverware. When the Red Bulls went to plug a season-long hole in net they imported an aging Frank Rost, who went on to hurt himself on a flight to Utah and simultaneously forced us to reset our watches to Bouna Time for the foreseeable future.
It remains to be seen if the Red Bulls can turn it around, but it goes without saying it won’t be easy to do so against a Galaxy side well on its way to securing its second straight Supporters’ Shield. What we do know, is that come Sunday, the Red Bulls will be staring down their mirror image, only in much better form.