BY ADAM SERRANO
Throughout the last three years, the Los Angeles Galaxy have experience in dealing with the pressures of important games and in order to bypass the New York Red Bulls on Thursday (11pm EST, ESPN2), they will need all the cunning at their disposal.
With a 1-0 aggregate advantage after their win last Sunday at Red Bull Arena, the Galaxy are faced with a decision. Either push forward in hopes of ending the series quickly or try and hold against a motivated Red Bulls team that needs a goal to take the match to extra time. Looking to advance to the Western Conference Final against Real Salt Lake, it's the past that the Galaxy hopes to use to get a result.
"We have good experience in this situation,” Landon Donovan told reporters on Wednesday. “We were in the exact same position last year, where we beat Seattle away, and then we came home. I think a lot of teams in that situation might have a tendency to sit back and guard the goal, but we wanted to come out and be aggressive, and we got at them early and ended the game quickly.
"In an ideal world, we could do that, but, certainly, it's a different year and a different opponent, and it's going to be tough."
The Galaxy may have earned the victory at Red Bull Arena, but it was the scuffle that ensued after the final whistle that may prove truly decisive as both sides will be without key contributors. Midfielders Rafael Marquez and Juninho will each be suspended due to their role in the incident, leaving both teams to try and compensate for their loss.
With the steely Brazilian unavailable, it appears that midfielder Chris Birchall will likely suit up alongside David Beckham in the Los Angeles midfield. Due to his abilities on the defensive side of the ball, Birchall appears to have risen above other options for a spot in the Galaxy starting lineup. Having had their depth tested repeatedly throughout the year, the Galaxy are confident in Birchall or whomever slides into Juninho's role.
"We'll see," said Beckham. "At the end of the day, we've done well throughout the season with players being injured or suspended and we've coped with it this season so hopefully that will continue and the players that step in will do well."
The post game scuffle on Sunday not only led to suspensions on both sides, but also provided added intensity for an already heated playoff match. In a conference call earlier in the week, Red Bulls forward Luke Rodgers fired back at Donovan's comments following the first leg in which the Galaxy captain referred to the Red Bulls as a "cheap team."
Rodgers singled out Beckham for placing a "gash" on the leg of Red Bulls defender Roy Miller and made the declaration that people "who live in glass houses should not throw stones." With both teams seeking to advance to the Western Conference Final, the Galaxy expect that there will be even more physicality when the two teams square off on Thursday.
“It's a playoff game. It happens,” said forward Robbie Keane, who admitted to being 90 minutes fit on Wednesday. “Not even in a playoff game. It's football, isn't it? It's a man's game. You have to accept it or you're gonna get kicked.”
The Galaxy's match-up with the Red Bulls will take place in front of a limited capacity of 20,000 due to an agreemement between the Home Depot Center and Cal State Dominiquez Hills. Due to parking concerns for the Universities' night classes, the Galaxy needed to reduce the HDC's capacity from the normal 27,000.
All external factors aside, the Galaxy understand that their ability to answer that definitive question to either attack or defend that will ultimiately decide their playoff fate.
"There's no point in sitting back and thinking that we can defend a one-nil lead because when you've got players like they've got on their team, it's always going to be dangerous," affirmed Beckham. "No we won't be sitting back, but we have to be cautious of the striking power that they've got."