CARSON, Calif. – At the start of the 2011 season, the perfect scenario for LA went something like this: The Galaxy wrap up the Supporters’ Shield title with several clutch wins down the stretch while Juan Pablo Ángel fills the nets at a head-spinning pace.
The two things happened, but not quite the way many would have guessed.
Ángel was dealt in August to in-stadium rivals Chivas USA, and the five-month dry spell he suffered with the Galaxy went up in smoke as he reclaimed his scoring touch. Meanwhile, the Galaxy have continued to tear apart the rest of the league, clinching the Shield last week thanks to a Seattle loss.
Still, as the Galaxy prepare to face Ángel and Chivas USA on Sunday (9 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes), nobody on the Galaxy is complaining or bitter about their former teammate’s rebirth across the hall. Quite the contrary.
“To a man, I think every guy in [the locker room] is really happy for him,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. "He was a great teammate and we’re happy for him. We just don’t want him to score on Sunday.”
Since the Galaxy traded Ángel away to make room for Robbie Keane, the Colombian striker has scored seven goals in seven games for Chivas USA, including two-goal efforts against D.C. United and Toronto FC.
Scoring jags like that were something the Galaxy had hoped for when they acquired Ángel, the league’s most prolific scorer since he joined MLS in 2007. But he never found his way in an LA uniform – just three goals in 22 games will attest to that.
“You see it everywhere, where a guy doesn’t fit in somewhere and then flourishes elsewhere,” Donovan said. “My personal opinion is that it’s probably a stylistic thing. Chivas is a team that plays with some proper wide players and does a better job of putting balls in front of the goal and crossing the ball a lot, and Juan’s dangerous in those areas.”
The Galaxy landed Ángel after the 2010 season, and he seemed to have been the perfect replacement for Edson Buddle when the US national-teamer left for Ingolstadt of the 2.Bundesliga. But it took one more trade for the standout striker to show his true self.
“He’s such a dangerous player to play against,” Galaxy midfielder David Beckham said. “We saw that over the years, when he was a Red Bull, and we’re seeing it now with him in Chivas. He’s gone there and done really well. I was sad to see him go because he’s a great guy as well, but I’m happy for him, happy that he’s scored a few goals and he’s playing the way he is.”
Ángel did something that was perhaps unthinkable just a few months ago, when he was in the midst of his prolonged drought with LA: He reached double digits in goals scored for the fifth time in five seasons.
That seemed like a stretch on Aug. 6, when he played just 12 minutes against FC Dallas. Sitting on three goals with just more than two months remaining, seven more seemed rather unlikely.
While it took a uniform change to help him accomplish that, Ángel now has pieced together a fine campaign.
“I’m elated with the fact that Juan keeps his head up high, he can walk away from this season that he once again demonstrated the quality of striker he is and the quality person he is,” LA manager Bruce Arena said. “There’s no one happier for Juan than I am.”
That said, Arena would rather not see it up close.
“Come Sunday, I hope he’s the worst player on the field,” Arena said, “but that’s just the competitive nature of things.”