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March 25, 2011
Galaxy, RSL both missing stars on Saturday night

Juninho can extend his personal regular season goalscoring streak to four games against Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
Juninho can extend his personal regular season goalscoring streak to four games against Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
The luster surrounding one of the early glamour matches of the MLS season will be dimmed somewhat when the LA Galaxy visits Real Salt Lake on Saturday night (6:00 pm, delayed to 10:30 on Prime Ticket). Both teams will be a little low on star power due to national team call-ups, but when you’re talking about the Galaxy, “low” is a relative term.

Sure, Landon Donovan will be with the U.S.A. facing Argentina on Saturday night, but the reigning MLS Supporter’s Shield winners will hand his captain’s armband to David Beckham, who will be serving balls into the box for Juan Pablo Angel. RSL, on the other hand, will be dealing with a collection of international commitments and injuries that will test even coach Jason Kreis’s perennially deep bench, and might even open the door for the Galaxy to snap Salt Lake’s 35-match (in all competitions) home unbeaten streak.

Start with the national team call-ups, which will cost RSL midfielders Arturo Alvarez (El Salvador) and Will Johnson (Canada), and 2010 scoring leader Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica). In addition to the national team absences, the team might be without 2010 MLS Defender of the Year Jamison Olave (hamstring) and starting netminder Nick Rimando, who did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, and who will ultimately need surgery to deal with a bone spur in his ankle. Outside back Chris Wingert also is at less than 100% with a sprained ankle. Olave’s absence opened the door for second-year pro Chris Schuler, who held his own in last weekend’s 1-0 win over San Jose, and another youngster, Tony Beltran.

Overall, Rimando will be the most difficult player for Kreis to replace. He made eight saves against the Earthquakes last weekend, holding fast through a furious San Jose rally including back-to-back shots by 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and Khari Stephenson in the 70th minute and a dangerous long shot from Sam Cronin that almost slipped away in a driving rain. Kyle Beckerman banked the winning shot off the post in the 63rd minute, off a pass from Javier Morales. Overall, Rimando and the RSL defense have surrendered only one goal in four competitive matches in 2011.

The question is how effectively the Galaxy might be able to capitalize on RSL’s short bench. While Bruce Arena’s team tops the MLS standings with four points (1-0-1), they have through their first two matches of the season shown a disconcerting tendency to squander scoring opportunities. Brazilian midfielder Juninho stepped up with a pair of goals last weekend, but the “goals for” column could have been padded considerably if the Galaxy had managed to take advantage of the assortment of silver platter opportunities they were able to create.

The Galaxy opened the MLS season with a solid road performance, defeating Seattle Sounders FC 1-0 on a picturebook long-distance strike from Juninho. The score should have been more lopsided, but Landon Donovan failed to score on a solo break into the box, and Beckham missed the target from close range.

Sunday’s 1-1 result against the New England Revolution was a draw that felt like a loss, and narrowly missed being one after New England midfielder Shalrie Joseph cracked a shot off the post in the 65th minute. Three Los Angeles goals were called back, two for offside and one for goalkeeper interference. The last of those nullified goals came from striker Angel, who made his much-anticipated Galaxy debut in the 63rd minute and beat goalkeeper Matt Reis with a header off Beckham’s service in stoppage time, but was offside.

While the mainstays of the Galaxy lineup are off to a slow start, second-year midfielder Juninho might be embarking on a breakout season. Both of his Week 1 goals were impressive long-range strikes, including the 1-1 equalizer against New England, a 19-yard one-timer through not only the Revolution defense, but driving rain and high winds. He is tied for the MLS scoring lead, and has a three-game goalscoring streak dating back to last season’s regular-season finale. If he connects against RSL on Saturday he will become only the seventh player in Galaxy history to score in four consecutive games.

Clearly the Galaxy have the tools and the depth on offense, and the question is not whether, but when, they will gel up front. And the team’s “A” defense has yet to take the field, with injuries keeping starting netminder Donovan Ricketts and centerbacks Omar Gonzalez and Gregg Berhalter off the field since the preseason. Josh Saunders remains a capable backup in goal, and Leonardo and A.J. De la Garza have generally held their own, although a misplay by Leonardo left Shalrie Joseph free to head home New England’s goal in the third minute of last Sunday’s raw, snapping a 435-minute personal shutout streak for Saunders dating back to April 4, 2009. Gonzalez is expected to be available on Saturday.

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