Freddie Ljungberg will be available for selection in Los Angeles on Sunday but Nery Castillo did not travel with the team and should make his debut on August 8 against New York. The Fire's outlook for the remainder of the season has changed dramatically over the last two weeks with the acquisition of two designated players. The team will reach the half-way point of the season with their fifteenth match against the top team in MLS.
The Galaxy have been stellar for most of the the year despite recent struggles in the US Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champion's League. After playing to a 2-2 draw against San Jose in MLS play last weekend, Los Angeles was trounced at home by USL-2 side Puerto Rico Islanders while playing most of their first choice players.
Donovan Ricketts has been the top goalkeeper in MLS this season and got the nod in the All Star Game against Manchester United. Defensively LA has been fantastic (until recently) with Omar Gonzalez, Leonardo, and Greg Berhalter playing center back. Gonzalez was also a participant in the All Star Game.
The outside backs also feature depth and versatility. Sean Franklin has started matches at both right back and right mid. Todd Dunivant is the usual starter at left back (Eddie Lewis also plays left back and left mid). AJ DeLaGarza can play either side in the back. All are capable MLS starters.
Bruce Arena employs a 4-4-2 formation that allows Landon Donovan to roam from the left mid spot while Juninho and Chris Birchall play the center midfield roles. Rookie Michael Stephens has played well at right mid. Chris Klein, Dema Kovalenko, and Alex Cazumba also fill in capably when needed. Donovan leads the league with 11 assists despite missing time for World Cup duty.
Alan Gordon and Edson Buddle are the usual pairing up top. Buddle has been fantastic, leading MLS with 12 goals. Jovan Kirovski and Tristan Bowen provide depth up front.
On the Fire's end, Carlos De Los Cobos will employ a 4-4-2 formation once Castillo is fit and ready to play. Since Castillo is not in Los Angeles, the coach may opt to continue utilizing a 4-5-1 formation for one more match particularly if Freddie Ljungberg is not in the first eleven. Ljungberg reportedly was nursing an ankle injury during his last few weeks in Seattle.
Patrick Nyarko should return to the line up providing a sorely missed spark on the wing while Marco Pappa comes off his first All Star Game after playing the first half against Manchester United on Wednesday. Logan Pause is no longer on the injured list and should return to the holding mid position. Baggio Husidic is listed as probable with a groin injury but Peter Lowry is also avaialble after suffering a head injury in SuperLiga. Deris Umanzor also remains an option in midfield. Umanzor looked very comfortable at the position during SuperLiga play.
Wilman Conde, CJ Brown, and Krzyzstof Krol all look set to return in back while Tim Ward is listed as questionable for the match with a calf strain. Stephen Kinney should get the nod if Ward can't go but Dasan Robinson is also ready to return.
Sean Johnson spent much of the week training with the first team in practice after impressing in SuperLiga. De Los Cobos has not named a starter in goal but I expect that Johnson will get the call over Andrew Dykstra on Sunday night.
The Galaxy continued to struggle last Tuesday night and as I wrote earlier in the week, the Fire could be catching them at a good time. The MLS season is full of peaks and valleys over the course of a summer and Los Angeles may be in the midst of one of those valleys that all MLS teams inevitably have to face.
Newfound excitement along with improved play in the last two SuperLiga matches coupled with the LA's recent struggles provide an opportunity for the Fire to go into the Home Depot Center and leave with a result. The Galaxy is 6-0-2 at home in league play and will travel to Puerto Rico immediately after the match for the second leg of their preliminary round match-up against the Islanders.
Fire 1 Galaxy 1
The referee for the match will be Silviu Petrescu.
Los Angeles Galaxy
Out : Mike Magee F (sports hernia surgery), David Beckham M (achilles tendon surgery)
Clint Mathis is not on the injury list but he is listed as unavailable as he ponders retirement.
Out : John Thorrington M (L quad strain)
Questionable : Tim Ward D (L calf strain)
Probable : Baggio Husidic M (L groin soreness)
How does the Galaxy stay under the MLS salary cap?
This is a question that has been asked for several years. Since LA signed David Beckham in 2007, MLS' confusing salary cap math has been the subject of conspiracy theories among fans. Landon Donovan now counts as a designated player after the latest collective bargaining agreement and expansion of the DP rule clarified some hazy issues. In review of the the Galaxy's salary list it appears that it is entirely possible that Los Angeles is operating within the rules of the salary cap without mysterious help from the league.
Although their total base salaries amount to $9,691,039.00 for the 2010 season only $2,811,039.00 of that amount is counted towards the salary cap since two designated players are only valued at $670,000.0 against the cap.
Taking into account that Omar Gonzalez is a Generation Adidas player and MLS rules allow up to six players that do not count against the cap as developmental players one can subtract Gonzalez's salary along with the salaries of Jordan, Marshall (who has been loaned out), Stephens, and DeLaGarza bringing the total "cap" amount to $2,565,939.00. Even before taking into account that Becks was loaned out and not available to the Galaxy until July 15 it's evident that the Galaxy could well be very close and even possibly under the MLS salary cap amount of $2,550,000.00. Of course, they're spending well above every other team in the league but in terms of the cap they are playing within the rules.
Now, how they were going to add Ronaldinho as a third DP under the cap rules is another story entirely.