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Monday MLS Breakdown: SuperClasico Role Reversal

By Kyle McCarthy

Few games on the MLS calender generate buzz like the SuperClasico.

The Los Angeles derby between Los Angeles and Chivas USA always seems to generate passion, goals and discussion. In this instance, it is unfortunately the latter that is the most necessary after a tame 0-0 draw on Saturday night.

This instance of the derby didn't bear the hallmarks of most of the previous meetings. In a series where the games average nearly three goals a game, this meeting boasted none. In a series where the stars usually shine, referee Tim Weyland stole the show by passing cautions out like candy in an attempt to control a game that didn't particularly need controlling until he started brandishing his plastic. In a series where tickets are usually hard to find, 23,317 spectators viewed the proceedings in the 27,000 seat Home Depot Center. In a series where the matches are often memorable, most who watched will easily forget this contest.

Then again, the norm in this series may be changing. In a series where the Galaxy won the first five meetings in the series to build up a considerable advantage in the overall tally (8-3-6 after Saturday's contest), the momentum now rests with Los Angeles' perceived secondary squad.

On a night where both sides really struggled to create any substantive offense, Chivas USA – down to 18 available players in their usual state of medical disaster – looked like the team that had the potential to achieve something this season. The passing looked crisp when the Goats started moving the ball and the defense looked pretty assure. A makeshift lineup boasted some promise despite the absence of nine first-team players.

In Preki, Chivas USA has a manager who can turn bronze into gold. His disciplined system, which emphasizes playing through middle and relies heavily on the work of evergreen captain Jesse Marsch and the scheming Sacha Kljestan in midfield, grinds out points. It may not always scintillate, but it is effective during the regular season. Even with the constant chopping and changing enforced by those injuries, Chivas USA remains stable and consistent.

Since taking over the Galaxy last August, Bruce Arena has tried to emulate that constancy. The results have yet to match Arena's ambitions. The Galaxy remain mired in the lower half of the Western Conference and don't really look like extricating themselves from that spot any time soon.

It isn't because of a lack of trying. Arena has basically overturned last season's roster in an attempt to construct a winning team. Dead weight shipped out, familiar faces like Jovan Kirovski and Mike Magee popped up and new blood like Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza arrived on the scene.  A new roster resulted, leaving Galaxy fans to consult their programs to figure out who took the field.

Arena has succeeded in improving upon last season's porous defense, if the Chivas game is any indication. The newly-acquired and considerably experienced Gregg Berhalter lends an air of solidity to a back line with the necessary parts to succeed in Gonzalez, DeLaGarza and veteran winger-turned-fullback Eddie Lewis. There's a more solid look to that newly-formed group than any group the Galaxy managed to throw on the field last season and chances are good that group can improve once Berhalter gets a consistent run in the side. Getting more performances like the one goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts turned in on Saturday night would help, too.

But when one problem cures itself, another crops up for the Galaxy. The primary issue is now in the center of the park. The holding midfield spot remains problematic for the Galaxy with Dema Kovalenko (suspended for this game) and Stefani Miglioranzi failing to impress, which is a problem for Arena considering he acquired both in the offseason to help rectify that trouble spot from last season. Veteran right-sided player Chris Klein lined up out on the left side to accommodate Sean Franklin's move to right midfield, a somewhat ill-fated shift borne out Arena's sheer lack of options on both wings and at left back. Attacking midfielder Josh Tudela struggled to orchestrate the game in a position where perhaps the absent Beckham could have aided the Galaxy with his considerable range of passing if not deployed out on the right side.

Even with the fresh blood and an attack that can still score goals with Donovan leading the line, the performances haven't matched the effort to improve them. Two points through three home games represents a meager return and Arena openly criticized his team after a poor effort against Colorado last weekend. Given the lack of steel and creativity in midfield and the emergence of teams like the Rapids and Sounders FC, Arena faces a significant task to guide the Galaxy to the playoffs

Arena will need patience from the Galaxy management – never a hallmark for this particular franchise – in order to continue the slow growth already in evidence. One look at Chivas USA and the growth that club has achieved with its stability at the helm may just make them reconsider that impatience. Without some caution, the balance in this series may swing too far to the red and white side for the Galaxy to reclaim it any time soon.

Stakes raised in D.C. stadium shell game

In the wake of the collapse of D.C. United's stadium deal in Prince George's County last week, MLS Commissioner Don Garber broke out the heavy rhetoric in an interview with the Washington Post last Thursday. R.F.K. Stadium is “close to the point where we can't continue to go on operating the team,” Garber told the Post, and a new facility is required to ensure the club's long term future.

“We don't seem to be able to get a deal done and it could be that, if something can't be resolved, we will move the team,” Garber said.

The strong words were complemented by the mention of “several other cities in Maryland and Virginia” expressing interest in building a stadium. Garber said the owners are committed to D.C., but need an “economically viable model” to move forward.

What Garber failed to mention is how much the league needs D.C. United -- “a premier sports team in America” and “one of the premier teams in Major League Soccer” in Garber's words -- to remain in the nation's capitol instead of St. Louis, Atlanta, Miami or some other potential MLS market. The league simply can't afford to move one of its premier teams out of the D.C. market, no matter how poor the economic model is at R.F.K. Stadium. In times of economic instability and in the wake of the Beckham fiasco during the offseason, the image hit of United leaving D.C. would irreparably harm the league's credibility.

The take home message? The posturing game will continue to escalate as United's stadium hopes continue to fluctuate and both Garber and United use the threat of a possible move to gain leverage. For Garber's and United's sake, they should hope the situation does not reach the point where they have to act on those empty words.

Week Four – Questions, Thoughts, and Answers

Goal.com Player of the Week – Javier Morales, MF, Real Salt Lake

Morales presented himself at just the right time to snatch all three points in RSL's 2-1 win over D.C. on Saturday. The Argentine playmaker collected a fortunate bounce off Marc Burch in the 80th minute and tucked home the winner past a diving Louis Crayton. The goal capped an active display from Morales, who often carved up the United defense with his passing and coped well with the suffocating presence of United midfielder Clyde Simms.

What was he thinking? Alan Gordon, FW, Los Angeles

Los Angeles hasn't had much luck this season, but Paulo Nagamura's rather unwarranted pair of first-half yellow cards gave the Galaxy an unmerited advantage heading into the second half. Gordon threw away that advantage by picking up two yellows in three minutes half-way through the second half. After picking up a card for dissent, Gordon earned his second one for lashing out at Carey Talley – who may have exaggerated the blow in order to make sure it was noticed – and getting caught by the alert fourth official Baldomero Toledo.

“He slung an elbow into my chest, and I sat down,” Talley told reporters after the game. “I figured somebody had to see it, and the fourth official I think is the one that told [the referee]. You can shove somebody, I guess, but when you do something like that you're going to get called for it no matter what. I didn't feel like I embellished it at all, but I did fall down on my ass there. I just sat there. I didn't roll around or anything, I just waited to see if anybody saw it and they did.”

Eleven observations to start the week

1. Is Kevin Harmse trying to get Stefan Frei killed? The TFC centerback decided to head a loose ball softly back to his impressive rookie keeper with Kenny Cooper and Jeff Cunningham bearing down on goal. The resulting Cunningham tackle – which wasn't pretty by any means – might have been the best case scenario in that situation because Frei easily shook it off.

2. Why did Toronto sit off the ball so much in the final ten minutes of Saturday's 1-1 draw? The retreat almost invited FCD to snatch a late equalizer it probably didn't deserve on the run of play.

3. Most teams would kill for the type of service Chris Leitch provided Darren Huckerby for the opener in San Jose's 3-3 draw with Chicago.

4. The only thing in that game more impressive than Leitch's sumptuous diagonal ball? Brian McBride's clever little touch and turn before firing home Chicago's second.

5. D.C. rookie Chris Pontius stepped into the breach when injuries impacted United prior to the start of the season. With the way he's playing right now, it's hard to see him leaving the lineup anytime soon. What a great little jinked cross to Luciano Emilio for United's only goal at Rio Tinto Stadium.

6. That win gave the Lakers their first back-to-back wins since August 2007.

7. Could Conor Casey have asked for an easier finish in the final ten minutes? A poor goal for Columbus to concede with three points in the bag and one the sidelined Chad Marshall probably wouldn't have let happen straight down the middle of the Crew defense.

8. The surface at Robertson Stadium is not fit for MLS play at this point. What a disaster to watch a game on that so-called grass.

9. New York defender Carlos Johnson deserves at least an extra game for his diabolical tackle on Geoff Cameron. Johnson should count himself lucky that the Dynamo players didn't extract swift revenge before his dismissal.

10. Since technical difficulties robbed standard definition Direct Kick customers of Kansas City's 1-0 win over Sounders FC, I leave the description of Davy Arnaud's 80th minute winner to substitute Sounders FC goalkeeper Ben Dragavon. “It started off coming at me then it just broke off,” Dragavon told the Seattle Times. “I got a hand on it. I actually thought I got enough to push it around the post, but it hit the side netting. It’s rough.”

11. Kasey Keller's first-half red card – which handed Dragavon an unexpected debut – leaves Seattle in quite the goalkeeping bind next weekend. Primary backup Chris Eylander has struggled with a knee injury since the pre-season, but indicated on Saturday night he could be ready for next weekend. Dragavon played against the Wizards because Eylander couldn't go. But neither can replace Keller's steady, calming influence behind a resolute Sounders FC back line for a difficult match at Chivas USA.

BONUS: If you aren't following me on Twitter, you're missing out on commentary and updates throughout the week. Get with the program at https://twitter.com/kylejmccarthy.

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kyle.mccarthy@goal.com.

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