Kartik was right. There was a buzz about this game – two solid, mature teams with something to prove. In the end, the Galaxy went out deserved winners. Some thoughts…
Welcome back Sean Franklin. When 2008 Rookie of the Year Franklin tore his hamstring in mid May, Galaxy fans saw disaster. Franklin was the only positive in a horrendous 2008 back line, and with Omar Gonzalez still untested, Greg Berhalter needing to prove that he was not past his sell-by state, and Todd Dunivant struggling to get fit, the signs were not good. Yet, somehow, until last week’s preposterous 3-6 loss to Dallas, the Galaxy have had the stingiest defense in the league. Gonzalez has been a revelation as a center back and has all but locked down this year’s Rookie of the Year award, and his Terp teammate AJ Delagarza has done great work as Franklin’s replacement. With Franklin assuming his Right Back role, the Galaxy completely frustrated Toronto allowing them only a single shot on goal.
De Guzman had a rough first game. It was a tough evening for Toronto DP new boy Julian de Guzman. He was missing the connections with his teammate that grow with time, and he gave the ball away far too cheaply. He earned a yellow that could have been worse for a dangerous tackle on Eddie Lewis that forced Lewis out at half-time. Beckham shadowed de Guzman all night and never gave him a moment on the ball. Speaking of which…..
Beckham had his best game as a member of the Galaxy. After a fairly tepid two months since his return from Italy, Beckham switched on Saturday night and was an absolute monster. His goal in the first half was terrific, and later in the half he hit the post with a daisy cutter of a blast. His assist on the second goal was achieved through hard running and great skill. Overall the famous Beckham work rate which many Galaxy fans have only seen in spurts was out in force tonight. He was all over the field, breaking up Toronto passes, pressuring the opposition at every opportunity and running himself to the brink of exhaustion. He missed an absolute sitter late in the second half, and that was probably because he had run his tank into the red. More of that, please.
Despite this loss, Toronto can be a dangerous team in the playoffs. If Toronto does make take the last wildcard playoff position (they probably need two wins and two draws or three wins in their last four games to make it), they will be a really tough draw for their first round opponent. If de Guzman finds his feet, he could form a great partnership with De Rosario, who always looked dangerous tonight. Stefan Frei is a solid goalie whose skilled positioning kept the Galaxy from scoring more. Knowing that a first round meeting with Toronto includes a trip to BMO, that could be a tough assignment.
Somehow, Bruce Arena has fashioned a very complete team. This is a subject worthy of a larger post, but despite all the salary cap restrictions and filled DP allotments, Arena has remade the Galaxy from bottom to top in the last 12 months, and has a team without many obvious holes. The Galaxy are two points behind Houston with a game in hand despite the fact that they have been cursed by injuries (Franklin, Buddle, Eskandarian and Kovalenko have missed months this season), lost Donovan for a month with the USMNT, and did not see Beckham until late July. Arena has pulled this off by combing some great veterans like Dunivant and Berhalter , a sensational Superdraft (Gonzalez and Delagaza) and a handful of quality signings, including Donovan Ricketts in goal. The Galaxy are deep, experienced, and under Arena, have a great work ethic. Most concerning for the rest of the league, they seem to be hitting their stride at the right time.