It is the New York Red Bulls’ turn to host the now-annual tussle with Los Angeles Galaxy. On Sunday, May 14, a very unGalaxy-like Galaxy will play RBNY. It is no secret that LA has stumbled out of the gate in MLS 2017. Bruce Arena took most of his assistants with him when he left the Galaxy to coach the US Men’s National Team in the off-season. That plus the usual off-season player departures meant this would be something of a rebuilding year in LA, especially since many of those players who departed were some of the bigger names and more reliable veterans in MLS: Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Steven Gerrard, Mike Magee, Dan Kennedy, Jeff Larentowicz, Alan Gordon, A.J. DeLaGarza - it’s quite a list.
Sure, many of those guys were visibly past their prime or due to retire (or already retired, in the case of Donovan), and Arena was never going to manage LA forever, but it was still assumed that an organization like the Galaxy would have a succession plan in place and would therefore avoid the usual bumps in the road of a transition year.
But head coach Curt Onalfo and a roster of veterans supplemented largely by players promoted from the club’s reserve team in USL have hit just about every bump they could find in the first nine games of their season.
There are quality players on the roster, like Giovani Dos Santos, Jelle Van Damme, and Romain Alessandrini. USMNT’s Gyasi Zardes has game-changing ability, at least at the MLS level. And younger players like Bradford Jamieson IV, Ariel Lassiter, and Jack McBean have come through from LA’s well-regarded USL squad.
But injuries have zeroed on some of the senior players in the squad. Sebastian Lletget who was injured playing for USMNT against against Honduras in World Cup Qualifying. Robbie Rogers is out for the season. Jermaine Jones was scratched for this match-up against the Red Bulls.
And results just haven’t been easy to come by: LA got just two wins, and six points, from its first seven league games. It has tied its last two, however, which counts as an improvement in form.
It can hold out some hope of at least another draw in this game against RBNY, since that has been the result of the last two meetings between these teams.
Two years ago, LA came to Red Bull Arena and got a point on the road as Bradford Jamieson IV converted from distance - and it took a weird deflection off Felipe for RBNY to nab the equalizer.
Of course, we can’t forget the monstrosity of the match that happened last season as referee Hilario Grejeda made a mess of a match that was a hack-and-whack fest. Connor Lade and Damien Perrinelle were forced out of the game, and Grajeda missed two penalty calls - fouls on Alex Muyl and Gonzalo Veron - that might have seen RBNY claim all three points.
Instead, late goals from Mike Magee and Ashley Cole squared the game for the Galaxy after Veron and Sean Davis had put the Red Bulls up by two.
Another draw in this game might suit LA, who could at least point to three games unbeaten in the league. But it wouldn’t be much consolation to RBNY, having just come out of a demoralizing double-game week that saw the team lose twice on the road by an aggregate score of 5-0.
This game is the beginning of another three-match home stand for the Red Bulls. The last one brought three wins, and they would surely at least like to start this one with another. Because the team needs a win to compensate for woeful road form, and because next in line is Toronto FC - the hottest team in MLS at the moment.
Jesse Marsch should have a fitter squad than he’s had available to him for most of the season. Only Aurelien Collin is known to be injured. Mike Grella is the latest banged-up Bull to have recovered, and he saw his first competitive minutes since March against the Union last week.
Mother’s Day at Red Bull Arena will be a little tense if the home team can’t establish control early in the game. The Red Bulls have brought a little pressure on themselves with their repeated road problems. The could use the win almost as much as lackluster LA. The team that scores first will be mightily relieved, but don’t expect either side to let up until the final whistle.