Carson, CA – The LA Galaxy (29-20-12) vs. San Jose Earthquakes California Clássico that dates all the way back to MLS beginnings in 1996 remains one of the hottest soccer tickets in MLS in spite of a lopsided home record with the Galaxy dominating 19-5-5, and Sunday’s match should be no disappointment to fans who are looking for a high-scoring match and LA’s lineup to be at full force.
Chris Wondolowski, though technically no longer a DP, retains his goal-scoring record with 7 goals in 11 matches thus far, and coming off a brace in Wednesday’s friendly against Real Sociedad, is poised to push through LA’s defense. But, in his way is a likely a returning Nigel de Jong. The inevitable reshuffling of LA’s midfield due to his return will be interesting to watch unfold. It remains a question if Nigel de Jong will play a full 90 minutes upon his return from a 3-match ban plus injury that have kept him off the pitch since April 10. However, he’s been ardently training since this Monday according to reports and his own return to Twitter after over a month silence.
But could De Jong’s return also help put a little less pressure on Jelle Van Damme, who is still on yellow card watch? Van Damme will play in his fourth game of a five game good behavior incentive. If Van Damme can get though the next two games, he’ll have a yellow card removed from his record and that will take him one yellow card further from a mandatory suspension.
Other Galaxy players to watch this Sunday include a returning Alan Gordon whose injury spell has kept him out of the fold since April 10 The highest paid DP in the roster, Steven Gerrard, who made some enemies of fans this week with his earlier comments about wishing he were still with Liverpool, and who continues to have to prove himself worthy of his role at the Galaxy with inconsistent individual game performances yet predictable success. Basically can’t take the shine off a diamond, as old as it gets, it’s still got luster. Giovani dos Santos, meanwhile, earned a different kind of reputation from LA Galaxy fans this week with the news of his rejection from a call up by Osorio to Mexico’s Copa squad. His reasoning included a declaration of confidence in his improvement with each game, an adjustment period to MLS which seems to be winding down and a belief in wanting to retain that consistent upwards trajectory, along with an admittance that he’s not a young player anymore and needs to be realistic. Dos Santos has netted 5 goals and 5 assists so far this season and he’s been on fire in the past month for LA. So it’s understandable he doesn’t want to mess with that good vibe. Mature decision and one that means he’s gambling that his value to El Tri will increase with his increased rate of progress in MLS.
Last but not least, LA Galaxy’s enigmatic forward Gyasi Zardes, whose speed and ability to be at the right place at the right time and tireless work ethic and affable personality makes his mistakes on the pitch forgivable.
“He’s playing at a really high level,” he added. “His engine is phenomenal, he does a lot of defensive running, wins head balls. It can be the 90th minute and he’s taking people on and chasing everything.” – Union head coach Jim Curtin, after the phenomenal LA draw at Philly last week.
Zardes has thus far been a player LA Galaxy can’t live without – he’s netted 2 goals and 4 assists in the past 5 matches, and often plays a linking role with Giovani dos Santos who has repeatedly credited their growing chemistry on the pitch to his own successes. Thankfully LA Galaxy will have Zardes this Sunday but there are questions about how LA’s frontline will work out in his absence as his role with US Men’s National Team grows. That’s inevitable with the Copa Centennario in June but also even more with Altidore’s injury that pushes Zardes into a role of being a “veteran” forward for the U.S., a role that will have a physical toll on him after his return to the Galaxy in July.
Meanwhile, San Jose are angling for their first away win of the year and are coping with injuries – midfielders Cordell Cato and Marc Pelosi, forward Quincy Amarikwa is questionable with a hamstring injury, forward Mark Sherrod, and defender Clarence Goodson are both out as well. Given the number of returning players on LA’s roster, a home record of 4-0-1 and a strengthening front and back line, Bruce Arena has a number of things to be smiling about pre-game. San Jose will be tested in this rivalry match. It could be a bloodbath, or, depending on Arena’s choice of goalkeeper, perhaps Wondolowski will keep up his habitual scoring and give LA’s defense a challenge.