LA Galaxy's Samuel making "great improvement" as candidate to step in for absent Robbie Keane

CARSON, Calif. – Robbie Keane is off with Ireland's national team for a pair of East Coast friendlies and will miss Sunday's SuperClasico (8 pm ET; Univision Deportes), so either Samuel or Rob Friend is expected to partner with Landon Donovan up top for the LA Galaxy.

There are other options – both could play, with Donovan dropping into midfield, or Gyasi Zardes could get the call against Chivas USA – but Samuel seems likeliest to step into Keane’s shoes after exhibiting significant growth over the past month.

The 23-year-old Brazilian, on loan from Fluminense, had played in five successive games – with starts in a 1-0 loss at Houston on May 17 and the 2-1 home victory a week later against FC Dallas – before watching Sunday's 1-1 draw at Chicago from the bench.

“His first touch has improved, his passing,” head coach Bruce Arena said following Tuesday morning's training session at StubHub Center. “He's just become a better soccer player. Over the last month, we've seen great improvement, and there's certainly going to be opportunity for him to play as we get into the second half of the season.”

Samuel, who has started three league and two CONCACAF Champions League matches in nine first-team appearances, thinks he has prospered after the initial difficulties of his transition to the MLS game.

“In the first two or three months, it was very tough, but I'm finally being able to feel like I'm in it and I'm able to help whenever they need me,” he said through a translator. “I definitely feel better. I feel stronger. When I arrived, I didn't feel I had as much strength and force. … [The game here] is very different. In Brazil, everyone's technically good. Here everyone's technically good and everyone has the strength, and I feel it's a lot like the NFL. It's a lot of hit and hit with the body, and I've learned that. In Brazil, there's not as much tension as there is here. The force here makes a big difference.”

Samuel has just one goal this season, in the Galaxy’s 1-0 CCL home victory over Club Tijuana, and said he has grown most defensively, where has has improved on “pressuring” opposing defenders. He wants to continue to get better, of course.

“I need to be more confident, definitely,” he said. “And that comes with playing games.”

Of course, Arena could go with Friend, the 33-year-old target forward. But he is not 100-percent healthy and is trying to rebuild his strength and fitness after a multi-week bout with a virus that, he said, “just sapped me.”

“I'm feeling good this week, so hopefully I can get a good run of training this week and just get stronger,” Friend said. “That's all I'm concerned with at the moment.”

Arena said Friend has been “a little bit hot and cold.”

“I don't think he's been at his best lately,” he said, “but I think he's getting back into form.”