BY ADAM SERRANO
While much of the focus this week has been on the World Cup, a pair MLS unbeatens will do battle on Saturday as the Los Angeles Galaxy head east to take on the Columbus Crew.
The Galaxy bring the league's best defense to Ohio having only allowed a pair of goals in route to 26 points and an 8-0-2 record which is best in MLS. Columbus boasts the best record in the Eastern Conference at 6-0-2 having accumulated 20 points this season. Although there are still five months left in the season, the Galaxy are aware that Saturday's match is immense in their quest to earn the Supporters Shield.
"It's a huge game this week, last time we weren't happy with our performance there and obviously if you look at the standings its a game between the top teams in the league," said defender Gregg Berhalter. "Going into their game, our mindset has to be that we are going to match them physically."
The gritty and physical play of Columbus should offer a significant test for a Galaxy team that has had success in grinding out results with a timely goals, defensive process and depth.
One example of that depth is Galaxy forward Tristan Bowen. The 19-year-old striker has seen considerable time in the Galaxy front line since the departure of Edson Buddle due to international duty. The forward has impressed during the past week earning a goal against Boca Juniors on Sunday and an assist on Thursday against F.C. Dallas. A big performance against the best team in the Eastern Conference could solidify the forward's spot in the starting line up.
"This game is really important for me to show the coaches that I can be consistent," said Bowen. "I want to make sure that I continue to play for the guys and make sure that we can get these big three points on the road."
The Crew will be boosted by the inclusion of winger Robbie Rogers and defender Chad Marshall who return to Columbus after a stint at the United States National Team. The addition of Rogers to an attack that boasts Guillermo Barros Schelotto as well as reigning MLS player of the week Emilio Renteria should pose a major test for the Galaxy defense. Despite the additions for the Crew, the Galaxy remain unconcerned.
"We're not worried if (Marshall or Rogers) are there or not there," said head coach Bruce Arena. "We're only concerned about our own team."
Although the Galaxy will not be boosted by its own South Africa bound stars Landon Donovan or Edson Buddle, the club has shown impressive depth so far this season. Of the 25 players on the roster, 22 of them have started a match for the Los Angeles. A statistic that should come in handy as the club continues to play without its top offensive performers.
"It's a massive testament to Bruce and to the organization, I think if you really broke down how these teams are structured and the somewhat limited means and roster spots," said midfielder Eddie Lewis. "To have so many players capable of being in the starting line up says a lot about the players that are here, but also the training methods and the level of focus that the team has in general."