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Intergalactic Civil War: Union vs. Galaxy

May 11, 2011, 4:51 PM EDT

Sure, I’ll be there, Enrico and Matt P. will be there, but neither David Beckham nor Peter Nowak will be there as the L.A. Galaxy visit PPL Park tonight to face the Union (7:30PM/The Comcast Network). Becks will be resting his golden balls back in Los Angeles as the Galaxy are in the midst of a stretch of three games in seven days. I am sure he’ll miss being harassed by the incredibly welcoming folks who sit in The River End. Nowak will miss the game because he’s participating in what is apparently a prestigious charity soccer game back in his native Poland.

Beckham’s absence, while disappointing for fans who were looking forward to seeing him drop sixty yard crosses on a dime, could be a massive blow to the Galaxy. As the MLS game notes point out, six of the Galaxy’s 12 goals this season have come from dead ball situations – three from corner kicks, two from free kicks and one penalty kick.

Beckham, still one of the premier dead ball specialists in the world, is the one typically providing that service (as he was on the game winner against the Union out in L.A. back in early April). If nothing else, the Galaxy should be much less dangerous on set pieces, which bodes well for the Union considering all three goals they’ve conceded have come from either free kicks or corners (two free kicks and a corner).

However, that’s not to say that they have no attacking options. Landon Donovan has scored the last four Galaxy goals. Juan Pablo Angel also provides L.A. with a class finisher up top. Not to be overlooked, Juninho is a threat to strike from distance. Yes, they’ll be without Beckham, but the Galaxy still present plenty of scoring options.

The Union should have a full complement of players for assistant coach John Hackworth to choose from. Jordan Harvey is back from his red card suspension. Danny Califf appears to have recovered from the illness which kept him out of the Portland match. Stefani Miglioranzi, Brian Carroll, and Justin Mapp, all midfielders who’ve been nursing injuries, are apparently fully fit.

The story, as it has been all season, is when will the Union offense finally arrive? They’ve yet to score more than a single goal in any game this season. They’ve scored just five goals in seven games. I am not sure what they can do to get the offense going.

I would argue that they’ve had terrible play along the flanks, with no midfielder providing any kind of service into the box. However, the Union don’t exactly have a stout forward capable of getting on the other end of those nonexistent crosses.

I discussed this a bit with Matt, but Carlos Ruiz is not your traditional striker capable of consistently winning aerial battles in the box. He’s a poacher. He’s a guy who will clean up on loose balls in the box. He occasionally can create an angle and some space for himself just on the edge of the box and get shot off. But, and this is a big but, he’s not a guy who is going to present too many problems in the air for center backs.

So, how do the Union go about scoring goals? In my mind their best bet is to let Roger Torres and Sebastien Le Toux combine in the channels between the touchline and the 18 yard box. They need to get to the endline and pull balls back, on the ground, across the area. They need to play the sort of dangerous short diagonal balls which unlock a back four. I’d say Danny Mwanga would thrive with well timed runs across the face of a defender, but he still seems unsure of himself when paired alongside Ruiz.

There are no easy answers as it relates to their offensive struggles, which makes the fact they’ve played shutdown defense all the more important. What else can be said about a group who, coming into this game, have conceded just three goals over seven games? It’s been a stunning turnaround from last season. You cannot underestimate the difference Faryd Mondragon and Carlos Valdes have made on this team.

Here’s the lineup I hope we see tonight: Mondragon, Harvey, Valdes, Califf, Williams, Daniel, Okugo, Carroll, Le Toux, Mwanga, McInerney (who I think is better suited than Ruiz to dart into those spaces between the opposing backline).

Final Score Prediction: Hmmmm, perhaps a 1-0 game (like shooting fish in a barrel) is in the offing? I have no empirical evidence to back this up, but I just feel like it’s difficult for MLS teams to fly cross country and win games. Relying on that completely made up fact I’ll go with the Union on the good side of that 1-0 score-line.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Carlos Valdes. He plays on the edge quite a bit. Perhaps this is the game he finally goes over that edge?