Know Your Enemy: Los Angeles Galaxy

It's been a trying week in Toronto FC-land.

Julian de Guzman's disparaging post-match comments, confirmation of the retention of Paul Mariner and Earl Cochrane with the stipulation that playoffs are a must for next season, Santos Laguna's midweek Champions League result virtually guaranteeing their progression to the knockout phase, and then there are season ticket renewals with a sneaky delay in announcement.

But toss that all to the side because there's a match to be played.

Five more in the league, two more continentals; seven more fleeting opportunities for all those off-field worries to dematerialize at the prospect of a win, to provide a momentary ninety minutes respite from the grind of losing and its byproducts.

Saturday night at the Home Depot Center, Toronto will take to the pitch against the Los Angeles Galaxy, their final Western Conference foes, in a rematch of the season opening Champions League Quarterfinal tie.

It has been a long season, much has changed since the Galaxy last graced the preview spotlight - a closer look is in order.

Recent Form

The curse of the SkyDome struck LA nearly as badly as it did Toronto, losing eight of their first thirteen matches to place them last in the West when the league broke for the June international break. That run culminated in the Galaxy falling out of the US Open Cup at the first time of asking - 2-1 at the Carolina RailHawks - but then the tide began to turn.

The break did Bruce Arena's charges well; they closed out the month of June with three straight wins before that dramatic seven-goal thriller at Stanford Stadium - losing by the odd-goal to the San Jose Earthquakes.

July began with a narrow loss to the resurgent Philadelphia Union, but since then the side has rarely looked back. Aside from a drubbing at the hands of Real Madrid to kickoff August, LA has only lost one further match in all competitions since then - a 4-0 destruction in Seattle - and have not conceded a goal in nearly a month, outscoring their opponents ten-nil over that five game stretch.

It wasn't the most difficult run of fixtures to be completely honest. A pair of matches against Chivas USA, Vancouver, and Dallas, singles against Colorado and Portland - twice playing the Puerto Rico Islanders and their match against Isidro Metapan at home.

The turnaround has been fueled in part by the return to fitness of Omar Gonzalez back from an off-season knee injury suffered in training in Germany. A fixture in the lineup since the end of July his convalescence precipitated a return to the Championship winning back-four that guided the side to such a strong defensive campaign last year.

In the five league matches since their reunion, LA is undefeated and has kept four clean sheets, conceding only a single goal to Columbus.

LA travelled to Puerto Rico for Wednesday night clash in the Champions League, playing out a 0-0 draw with a reserve-laded lineup featuring fringe squad members such as Brian Perk, Tommy Meyer, Kenney Walker, and Pat Noonan, amongst others.

Regular starters Landon Donovan, Marcelo Sarvas, and Juninho did enter in the final half hour, but should be fine to begin on Saturday.

Projected Lineup

This is where things get a little bit interesting.

Arena is a staunch advocate of the old-school 4-4-2; but in the absence of Donovan in two recent league meetings against Dallas and Vancouver he fielded a formation that more resembled a 4-2-3-1.

It was a fairly brilliant bit of tactical thinking, making the best of the players available, with David Beckham, Marcelo Sarvas, and Juninho as a midfield triangle, Hector Jimenez and Mike Magee on the flanks and Robbie Keane as the lone forward.

Both Donovan and Beckham are listed on the most recent injury report as questionable; MLS injury reports are notoriously troublesome. Donovan played the final half-hour on Wednesday - he was questionable on Tuesday's report for the same hamstring problem as well.

The projected lineup is as follows (4-4-2): Josh Saunders in goal; from right to left - Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, AJ De La Garza, and Todd Dunivant across the back; Christian Wilhelmsson, Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas, and Mike Magee across the midfield, with Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan up top.

football formations

Arena has done a masterful job of getting valuable minutes from the lesser-known members of the squad. Hector Jimenez, Michael Stephens, Brian Gaul, Jose Villareal - who scored a wonder-goal against Vancouver - and savvy veteran Pat Noonan.

Edson Buddle returned from injury layoff seeing some time in reserve and CONCACAF fixtures, but has yet to really find a place in the starting eleven since returning from a spell in Germany.

Wilhelmsson was a brilliant midseason pickup, tenacious and committed; he is the sort of European professional that will fit in nicely with the tempo of MLS. On a personal note, he was my favourite player at Germany 2006 and I was very surprised when he went to the Middle East at such a young age.

Last Meeting

The two legs of the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal played over seven days between the two sides in March was arguably the highlight of the Toronto season.

The first meeting, at the dreaded SkyDome, saw Toronto take the lead with two goals in the first twenty minutes - Ryan Johnson touched home a Torsten Frings corner kick, before Luis Silva looped a header across the keeper to send the massive crowd into palpitations.

Magee drew one back before the half-hour mark, capitalizing on a mistake from Stefan Frei, as Franklin's cross slipped between his mitts for a simple conversion inside the six-yard box.

Just as it appeared Toronto would see out the result, Donovan was able to poke a bouncing ball into the goal from a Beckham corner shortly after the most-world famous beer ever sold in Toronto made its appearance.

The return leg saw Toronto take another surprise lead from Johnson, a leaping header of his own from a Nick Soolsma cross. Ty Harden's own goal - touching a Donovan cross for Keane past the keeper - drew the clubs level before Johnson returned the favour to Soolsma, who scored the eventual winner and send the Reds on to the Semifinal.

Bullet Points

LA has a deadly ability to capitalize on the mistakes on their opposition. Toronto must be extremely cautious in taking care of possession and passing in their own end of the pitch. The Galaxy can pounce on any misstep, as they did twice against Salt Lake.

Aside from high pressing to create turnovers in the opponents end, LA is fond of a good through-ball, especially in search of Keane running off the shoulder of the defenders.

TFC will need to stay sharp and focus throughout the match; LA looks to exploit weaknesses from throw ins and quick restarts. Beckham's dead-ball service need not be mentioned, nor his ability from free kicks in dangerous areas.

Juninho and Sarvas are particularly effective from range.

Gonzalez is brilliant in the air but can be troubled by pace, especially when the full-backs are caught up-field. They can be exposed with long balls moved quickly up-field, if Eric Hassli in indeed unavailable, that would be a blow, but Johnson and Silva's quickness could prove useful.

They can also fall victim to high pressure.

Saunders can be equally brilliant and sloppy.

He is a fine shot stopper, but can be troubled by decision making, occasionally chasing and flapping awkward balls into his area.

You can find more of James Grossi’s insightful ramblings over at Partially Obstructed View and follow him on twitter @Grawsee

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