Against dangerous Sporting, tight D key to LA's game plan

CARSON, Calif. — Like every club, the LA Galaxy are looking forward to seeing the new Livestrong Sporting Park — “I’ve heard it’s a nice stadium,” David Beckham said on Saturday — when they travel east to face Sporting KC on Monday (6 pm ET, FOX Soccer).

But they’re more interested in dealing with Sporting’s attack.

Led by Mexican striker Omar Bravo and breakout midfielder Graham Zusi, second-place Sporting have the third most potent offense in MLS this season, pumping in 38 goals in 26 matches. Only the Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls have a better goals-per-game average.

“They’re a fairly direct team,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “They do try to get the ball forward as quickly as they can to their top three. I think that our backline needs to recognize where their players are because at times when they have their whole group there they’re fairly mobile.

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“We’ve got to do a good job of pulling in as a group and recognizing where they are and challenging the first ball.”

The LA defense, of course, is the best in MLS, with a .77 goals against average. The backline’s focal point is center back Omar Gonzalez. Although the last time LA met Sporting, in May, Gonzalez knocked in an own goal in a 4-1 win for the Galaxy, the 24-year-old is enjoying the best form of his three-year career. And in the wake of an injury to veteran Gregg Berhalter, Gonzalez’s responsibilities become paramount.

“I’m taking on a big role right now,” Gonzalez said. “Gregg’s out, so a lot of the organization is going to have to come from me. I’m just looking to keep our line tight.”

He’ll have plenty of experience alongside him, with Todd Dunivant on the left and Frankie Hejduk expected to start on the right. Hejduk, who against San Jose returned from a long-term ankle injury to make his first appearance since April, has quickly asserted himself in the backline.

“What better of a back four to go into?” Hejduk said to MLSsoccer.com on Saturday. “We’ve got some incredible players back there. The adjustment for me is pretty simple. These guys all know what they’re doing, they all talk, they’re all organized.”

“It’s good to have him back,” Arena said. “With Gregg being out right now, we needed to have Frankie ready to go.”

The Galaxy, who beat Sporting at home in May, enter the match with after a two-week break, due to the hurricane-related postponement of their scheduled match in New York last weekend. They are in the midst of a 7-1-0 stretch in all competitions.

Sporting are also rolling, with only two losses in their last 18 matches. Those two losses both came at home and under similar circumstances. Last weekend, Sporting blew a 2-0 lead against Dallas and lost 3-2 on a stoppage-time goal by Bobby Warshaw. In early August, they conceded a 90th-minute equalizer and a 92nd-minute winner to Seattle.

“I’m looking for a win in regulation,” Gonzalez said, smiling. “You say they’ve lost twice in 18 games, but what about us? We’ve also done really well. We’re two good teams right now and we’re both looking to get stronger toward the end of the season. I’m looking forward to this.”