By ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif. – Depth all over the field has been one of cornerstones to the Los Angeles Galaxy's success this season, and if they are to advance past the New York Red Bulls in Thursday's Western Conference semifinal second leg, they will need their bench to be decisive yet again.
A red card to Brazilian midfielder Juninho in a post-game scuffle after the first leg will cost the Galaxy one of their key contributors for Thursday's second leg against the Red Bulls. Chris Birchall appears the most likely to fill in for Juninho as the Galaxy hope to hold their 1-0 aggregate lead against New York, but he is not the only possibility.
"We have plenty of options, we'll make that decision by Thursday," said head coach Bruce Arena on Wednesday. "Birchall is an option, and we have three or four guys that we're considering. He's an experienced player that has played a number of games and he and David [Beckham] have played a number of games together."
Other options for the role include offensive-minded midfielders Michael Stephens and Paolo Cardozo, who have each seen time in Juninho's stead this season.
"Losing Juninho, there's only a couple of choices, and I haven't been told for definite if it's going to be the case, but I'm hoping so," said Birchall. "It'd be a nice game to step into, but anyone that steps in is going to do a good job, because that's the kind of squad that we've got."
HOME DEPOT CENTER AT LIMITED CAPACITY
The Galaxy will play their biggest game of the season in front of limited capacity due to a long-standing agreement between the Home Depot Center and Cal-State Dominguez Hills, but it was nearly much worse.
On Wednesday, the Galaxy announced that they would increase capacity from 15,000 as initially planned to 20,000 due to an agreement toreduce congestion for the university's mid-week classes. The Galaxy will also be offering parking from nearby locations and complimentary shuttles to offset the reduction from the Home Depot Center's normal 27,000 capacity.
This will mark the second time this year that the Galaxy will have played in front of a reduced crowd, as the club defeated Morelia, 2-1, in a pivotal CONCACAF Champions League match last month under the same circumstances. Should the Galaxy advance to the Western Conference final, the capacity would be returned to normal for Sunday's match-up.
SAUNDERS HOPING FOR MORE SUCCESS
Josh Saunders will be hard-pressed to duplicate his performance from Sunday, but for the Galaxy to advance to the Western Conference Final, he just might need to.
Having spent much of the season filling in for the injured Donovan Ricketts, Saunders was awarded with the start over a healthy Ricketts and made a lasting impact. Saunders made five saves, none bigger than a point-blank denial of Joel Lindpere's chance in the second half, preserving the result for the Galaxy. Although Saunders was decisive last week, he knows that there is still much work to be done.
"It's halftime right now, we still have one game to go and hopefully that we can build as a group and build off it myself as well," said Saunders. "The coaching staff has been preparing me for moments like this, and in the last couple years I've had to come in difficult circumstances and that's only made me a better player."