Photo by ISIphotos.com
BY ADAM SERRANO
The playoffs are on the horizon and there are numerous questions surrounding the league-leading Los Angeles Galaxy.
After a disappointing loss to the New York Red Bulls last week, the Galaxy will be expecting to rebound against their arch-rivals Chivas USA in the SuperClasico on Sunday evening. With the SuperClasico against Chivas USA on Sunday, the Galaxy's defense will once again face scrutiny as it takes on a Rojiblancos attack led by the in-form Justin Braun.
One cause for worry for the Galaxy has been the extended injury absence of defender Gregg Berhalter. For a team that started 11-0-2 with nine shutouts, the once impenetrable Galaxy defense has not registered a shutout since a 1-0 victory against the Red Bulls in August, which was Berhalter's last appearance for the club.
Here are some storylines to follow as the Galaxy attempts to regain its early-season form and make a return trip to the MLS Cup Final:
The loss of Greg Berhalter
Without the 37-year old, the organization and shape of the Galaxy as speedy attackers like Dane Richards and Andy Najar have exploited gaps that have appeared in the Galaxy defense. Berhalter has been training with the club despite the injury and may yet make a return to action against the cross the hall rivals. If the veteran were to return to the club, it will be the first time in six matches that the Galaxy will have the opportunity to call upon its veteran defender.
Lack of Depth
With Berhalter injured, the Galaxy have paired Gonzalez along side defenders Leonardo and Yohance Marshall. While the defenders have performed admirably given the circumstances, the limitations from defenders with a combined 12 matches of MLS experiences have become steadily apparent. Following the Galaxy's loss to the Red Bulls, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena was quite direct about the potential limitations of a pair of inexperienced center backs.
“For us to expect those two guys (Leonardo and Marshall) to come in and not make any mistakes, we’d have to be kidding ourselves."
Franklin to the middle
A potential replacement till Berhalter is fully healed may be defender Sean Franklin. The right back has been a focal point in the Galaxy''s overlapping offense but may need to slot along side of Gonzalez to stabilize the Galaxy defense. Should Franklin slot in along side Gonzalez, that would allow A.J. DeLaGarza to slide into the right back position. DeLaGarza who was Gonzalez's center back partner at the University of Maryland can also slide into Franklin's right back position as well as the center back spot.
Time for Gonzalez to lead
At the beginning of the season, the Galaxy defender stated that one of his goals for the 2010 season was to improve as a leader on the field for Los Angeles. While Gonzalez has reached All-Star heights for the first time in his career, the Galaxy have continued to struggle defensively even with Gonzalez in the back line. For the Galaxy to make a push to return to MLS Cup in Toronto, the club will need Gonzalez to step and become the leader that the team needs along the back line.
What are your thoughts about the Galaxy's defense? Can it recover in time for the Playoffs? Are the Galaxy still the favorite for MLS Cup?
Share your thoughts in the comments section below.