7 pm CT (KWHY)
A year ago - and for three times in MLS history - the Western Conference championship has come down to these two teams. Now in different conferences, they meet for the first time this year, the front end of a home-and-home series over the next two weekends. The Kansas City Wizards are hoping to rediscover some Arrowhead Stadium magic, having lost two consecutive matches at home by 1-0 scorelines. The Los Angeles Galaxy have reversed their recent form in the last week, a dominant win at the weekend against the Colorado Rapids, then earning a third trip to the U.S. Open Cup Final in midweek with a 5-2 victory against the Minnesota Thunder.
REFEREE: Michael Kennedy. SAR (bench): Chip Reed; JAR (opposite): Anthony Vasoli; 4th: Brad Clem
MLS Career: 68 games; FC/gm: 33.1; Y/gm: 4.1; R: 10; pens: 31
Games involving Wizards: P17 W7 L7 T3; FC/gm: 33.2; Y/gm: 4.2; R: 0; pens: 11
Games involving Galaxy: P12 W7 L0 T5; FC/gm: 32.1; Y/gm: 3.8; R: 2; pens: 7
INJURY REPORT: KANSAS CITY WIZARDS - NONE REPORTED ... LOS ANGELES GALAXY - QUESTIONABLE: MF Paulo Nagamura (R knee sprain); DF Ben Benditson (sports hernia)
WARNINGS: KC: Davy Arnaud (18 CP); Jose Burciaga Jr. (9 add'l CP); Diego Gutierrez (20 CP); Shavar Thomas (19 CP); Kerry Zavagnin (20 CP) ... LA: Naldo da Conceicao (18 CP); Herculez Gomez (17 CP); Tyrone Marshall (9 add'l CP)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: LA: FW Quavas Kirk (U.S. U-17 national team)
ALL-TIME (36 meetings): Wizards 15 wins (2 shootout), 44 goals ... Galaxy 16 wins (0 shootout), 56 goals ... 5 draws
AT ARROWHEAD STADIUM (18 meetings): Wizards 11 wins (1 shootout), 28 goals ... Galaxy 6 wins (0 shootout), 26 goals ... 1 draw
This is the first of two meetings this season between the one-time bitter Western Conference rivals, who will meet just twice this year after the Wizards move to the East - both encounters coming in a home-and-home series over the next two weekends.
Last year, the Wizards didn't lose to the Galaxy in five matches over the year. In league play, the Wizards won twice - once on each ground - the teams also played to a pair of draws.
The Wizards came back from a goal down to claim a 2-1 win on June 5 at The Home Depot Center. Alejandro Moreno gave the Galaxy the lead (59), but six minutes later Francisco Gomez equalized. Then four minutes from time, Josh Wolff whipped a low ball across the face of goal that Diego Gutierrez slid in to turn home.
On July 24, a tense match truly exploded into life when the Wizards scored twice in a three-minute span just before the hour, Davy Arnaud first finishing off a neat tic-tac-toe movement with a rolling shot from inside the area (57), then Jack Jewsbury ripping home a low blast from outside the area.
Yet it took just six minutes for the Galaxy to respond, Sasha Victorine left alone to coolly sweep home a Cobi Jones cross. Then after tempers had flared and threatened to boil over, in the fifth minute of stoppage time Andreas Herzog whipped in a rebound of a cleared corner, Tyrone Marshall sending a glancing header inside Tony Meola's far post to finish off a 2-2 draw.
In a 1-1 draw on Oct. 2 in Carson, the Galaxy dominated proceedings from the start, winning an early penalty kick, but Kansas City 'keeper Bo Oshoniyi turned aside Carlos Ruiz's 16th-minute attempt.
The home side finally went ahead through Tyrone Marshall after 65 minutes, when he was left unmarked at the near post to nod home a corner from close range. But the Wizards drew level in the 89th minute thanks to an own goal, Sasha Victorine turning a rolling Josh Wolff cross from the left flank into his own net.
Then on Oct. 16, the Wizards rode a Josh Wolff goal midway through the first half and another stout defensive performance to defeat the Galaxy 1-0 at home.
In the Western Conference Final, Davy Arnaud hit for goals in each half to give the Wizards a 2-0 victory and send them to a second MLS Cup Final. The Western Conference top seed got goals from Arnaud on lethal quick strikes midway through each half (24, 69).
The Galaxy have won just one of the last eight league meetings between the clubs, a 2-1 victory on June 14, 2003. The Wizards have won five of the regular season games since '03, with a pair of draws.
But the Galaxy had won the season series for five consecutive years before the '03 campaign, including a clean sweep of all four matches in 1998 - all coming in normal time.
The teams have met four times in the MLS Cup Playoffs, with a trip to the final on the line on three occasions. In 1996, the Galaxy won both games of their Western Conference Final series (1-0, 2-1), but in 2000 the Wizards gained a measure of revenge, winning in a sudden-death overtime game after the teams had split the first three matches in regular time. The other meeting came in the 2002 Western Conference quarterfinals, the Galaxy winning the third and decisive match.
Coaches record: Steve Sampson vs. KC: P2 W0 L1 D1... Bob Gansler v LA: P24 W9 L10 D5
KANSAS CITY WIZARDS
The Kansas City Wizards lost for the second time in three games and fell back in the Eastern Conference after a 1-0 loss to the MetroStars in the back end of their home-and-home series. The Wizards now have 42 points from 27 matches, tied for third in the East with the Chicago Fire, two points behind D.C. United. They now trail the division-leading New England Revolution by nine points.
The MetroStars kept pace in the Eastern Conference and stayed in the postseason hunt with the narrowest of victories against the Wizards.
The game's lone goal came a minute before the halftime interval, a free kick falling to Tim Ward and he laid it back to Eddie Gaven, who hit a low drive back toward goal. The shot took a deflection off Wizards midfielder Sasha Victorine on its way in, giving Bo Oshoniyi no chance.
The MetroStars played the final 25 minutes down a man after Tim Regan received two yellow cards in the space of four minutes, but Tony Meola stood tall to claim the shutout in his return to the city where he had played the last six seasons.
Wizards boss Bob Gansler made two changes to the team that played to a 2-2 draw at Giants Stadium the previous weekend. Jimmy Conrad and Scott Sealy returned from international duty, coming in for Alex Zotinca and Ryan Pore.
Here's Gansler's team (4-4-2): Bo Oshoniyi - Nick Garcia, Jimmy Conrad, Shavar Thomas (Preki 70), Jose Burciaga Jr. - Chris Klein, Sasha Victorine, Kerry Zavagnin, Davy Arnaud (Jermaine Hue 84) - Scott Sealy, Josh Wolff
"A couple of times we hit people [with our shots.] It's ironic that the only goal of the game was one that bounces off one of our players. It can be a cruel game - the better side doesn't always win," said Gansler. "You've got to give [the MetroStars] credit for being resourceful and coming in here and getting three points no matter how it transpires."
After a third consecutive victory on the road, a 4-2 win against Real Salt Lake on Aug. 13, the Kansas City Wizards were likely salivating over a schedule that listed six of their remaining nine games at home. They might now want to go back on the road, after dropping a second successive home match by 1-0.
The loss means the Wizards have six home victories, the second-fewest amount in the tight Eastern Conference. Their five road victories are second-most, as are their 20 points from 14 road games.
"We have to start winning at home. What's the use of a good road record if we can't win at home?" said defender Jose Burciaga Jr.
"In two games we have zero goals at home. That can't happen. We talked before the game that you have to win home games if you are going to be successful in this league," said Chris Klein. "For some reason we haven't done that this year. That's something we have to figure out."
And even though they played the last 25 minutes up a man due after Metro defender Tim Regan was sent off for two yellow cards in three minutes, the irony increased for the Wizards as they couldn't equalize. "It's [only] the seventh loss of the year," Gansler said. "It's ironic that we play better on the road than we do at home, especially in terms of realizing our chances."
In addition, the Wizards were unable to put anything past old friend Meola, triumphant in his first match back in Kansas City and who recorded a 56th career clean sheet. After the match, he took his goalkeeper jersey to unveil a T-shirt that read "THANK YOU KC".
"He made one good save on me and a couple other good saves. He was solid tonight," Klein said. "You've got to put more on goal and put them where he has to make saves in the corners. When we did that, he came up with some good saves."
Gansler pushed the offensive buttons by inserting Preki in the 70th minute and new acquisition Jermaine Hue in the 84th.
"The reason we put Jermaine in was to give us a little more wing play on the left side because Davy [Arnaud] is inclined to go inside. And when we've got Jose that deep [in the left back slot], he can't turn the corner and serve underneath," Gansler said. "We brought Preki in to get it going on [the right]."
During the week, the Wizards finally announced the acquisition of Finland international striker Antti Sumiala, releasing Jamaican international midfielder Khari Stephenson. Sumiala has traversed Europe over his career, beginning with Anderlecht's youth academy before stints in Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Sweden and Liechtenstein. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound striker earned 38 caps for Finland, scoring nine goals from 1992 until 2004.
Obtained by the Wizards in a 2004 trade with the Chicago Fire, Stephenson is best known for scoring the first goal in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinal series against the San Jose Earthquakes last season, a game in which Kansas City came in down 0-2 on aggregate. The goal sent the Wizards on to a 3-0 win and propelled them into the Western Conference Championship before reaching MLS Cup. Playing in all four postseason matches for the Wizards, Stephenson became just the fourth player in MLS history to log more postseason minutes played than regular season minutes. He started the final at right midfield and was subbed off at halftime.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY
The Los Angeles Galaxy ended a quick two-game losing streak in emphatic fashion, reclaiming second place in the Western Conference with a 4-1 victory against the Colorado Rapids last Saturday night. The Galaxy now have 38 points from 27 matches, two points ahead of third-place FC Dallas but still 12 adrift of leader San Jose Earthquakes. With a victory against the Wizards, or a Real loss to FC Dallas, or a draw and a Real tie, the Galaxy will secure their 10th berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs in the 10-year history of the league.
The Galaxy moved ahead of FC Dallas into second place in the West with a dominant performance of their own against a 10-man Rapids team. Herculez Gomez scored a goal in each half as the Galaxy were two goals and a man up barely a quarter of the way through the match.
Gomez sent the Galaxy on their way, scoring after just seven minutes when he stole the ball back from Rapids defender Hunter Freeman - who had stripped Gomez in the Colorado box - and powered home a finish over 'keeper Joe Cannon.
Colorado center back Nat Borchers was booked twice in the opening 21 minutes - once for a foul on Gomez, once for a foul on Landon Donovan - and just after his 21st-minute expulsion Donovan doubled the Galaxy lead. Cobi Jones whipped in a cross from the right corner that Donovan finished with a glancing header at the near post (24).
Kyle Beckerman gave the Rapids life three minutes after the second-half restart, pounding a cleared cross home from well outside the area that beat Kevin Hartman, but Gomez restored the two-goal margin in the 66th minute when he was set free on a long breakaway and slipped the ball under Cannon after racing away from the Rapids rearguard.
Guillermo Ramirez finally scored his first MLS goal three minutes from time from the penalty spot - but it didn't come without drama. His spot kick went to Cannon's right and sent the 'keeper the wrong way. But it hit the post - yet deflected off Cannon's back and into the back of the net.
Galaxy boss Steve Sampson made two changes to the team that lost 2-1 to the Chicago Fire the previous Sunday at The Home Depot Center. Chris Albright and Landon Donovan returned from World Cup qualifying duty with the USA, coming in at right back and striker for Troy Roberts and Joseph Ngwenya respectively.
Here's Sampson's team (4-4-2): Kevin Hartman - Chris Albright (Troy Roberts 69), Pablo Chinchilla, Tyrone Marshall, Todd Dunivant - Cobi Jones, Jovan Kirovski (Guillermo Ramirez 61), Peter Vagenas, Ned Grabavoy (Joseph Ngwenya 84) - Herculez Gomez, Landon Donovan
"I thought their decision to go after Landon Donovan early in the game resulted essentially in two yellow cards and just punishment. This is a guy that takes a lot of beatings when he plays for the Galaxy," Sampson said. "Overall, I'm pleased with the three points, which are essentially six points. I guess with the results tonight we're in second place all alone."
The win moved the Galaxy into second place in the West, combined with the loss of FC Dallas to D.C. United. The four-goal performance also should provide a confidence boost for the Galaxy, who have five games remaining on their schedule before the playoffs.
"It's good for us now that we have everybody back. This is the first time in quite some time that we can have a consistent lineup I think for the rest of the season," said Cobi Jones. "I think you'll see a lot of changes with the team. We'll be able to get used to each other as we head into playoffs. I think you'll see a lot of good things."
The Galaxy got the three points in style, scoring more than two goals in one game for only the second time since May. "We have talent. People know it. Everybody's seen it ... we are starting to play like a team and I think we showed it tonight," Gomez said. "In the first half, there was a good half-hour when I think Colorado was just praying to (catch their breath). We have to come out every game just like that - just win our individual battles. If we end up with enough of those then we'll get our reward."
Instead of Donovan, who usually takes the spot kicks for the Galaxy, it was Guatemalan international Guillermo Ramirez who took the ball for the late penalty. Cannon guessed wrong, diving to the right as Ramirez shot left. The shot caromed off the post and bounced back off Cannon's back and into the net for the game's final goal. "When you are lucky, you are lucky. Goals like that can change my luck for the rest of the season."
On Wednesday, the Galaxy advanced to the U.S. Open Cup Final for the third time in club history, putting an end to the Cinderella run of the USL First Division (second tier) Minnesota Thunder with a 5-2 victory at The Home Depot Center.
The Thunder nearly took a remarkable second-minute lead, but Melvin Tarley cracked a penalty kick over the crossbar. Cobi Jones made them pay when he turned home a volley in the 29th minute, then Herculez Gomez got the first of his two goals in 44th minute.
Johnny Menyongar halved the lead for the Thunder nine minutes after the restart, but a Tyrone Marshall goal restored the lead to start a three-goal burst in six minutes, rounded out by the second from Gomez (81) and then a goal from Joseph Ngwenya. Chad Dombrowski got a late equalizer for the Thunder, who had defeated MLS sides Real Salt Lake, Colorado and Kansas City in reaching the semifinals for the first time.
"When things go well they go well," said Donovan. "We need to do better on the other side of the ball if we're really going to be serious about winning an MLS Cup. But offensively, the way we moved the ball was pretty good tonight. A little lax at times, but pretty good."
Here's Sampson's team: Kevin Hartman; Michael Umana, Chris Albright, Tyrone Marshall, Pablo Chinchilla (Troy Roberts 71); Peter Vagenas (Joseph Ngwenya 66), Ned Grabavoy (Guillermo Ramirez 46), Cobi Jones, Paulo Nagamura; Landon Donovan, Herculez Gomez (Alan Gordon 85)
Earlier in the week, the Galaxy made a pair of significant moves. They traded striker Jovan Kirovski to the Colorado Rapids for a first-round pick in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft, and signed midfielder Marcelo Saragosa on a full transfer. Saragosa played with the Galaxy last season, but returned to Sao Paulo FC in his native Brazil when his loan agreement was completed.
Then on Friday, they signed Michael Nsien to a developmental contract. A University of Dayton product and Nigeria youth international, he had recently seen time with the club's reserves.