While it's certainly fitting that the Los Angeles Galaxy will be taking on the New England Revolution on the Fourth of July, Monday's matchup looked to signify so much more not long ago.
At one point, the contest at The Home Depot Center seemed set to be a preview of this year's MLS Cup Final. But things change quickly, and while the Revs survived their rocky spell with just a single loss and still led the Eastern Conference before the Chicago Fire's victory on Saturday, the Galaxy have struggled recently. Right now, the game can be billed as two teams who have handled adversity in very different ways.
Both sides feature some of the most talented players in MLS. Yet while most of the time that serves as a blessing, it can also be a curse when World Cup qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup roll around. Both teams have had their rosters raided by national team coaches and have been forced to play several games at less than full strength.
Such will be the case again on Monday night. New England will be without power trio Clint Dempsey, Pat Noonan, and Steve Ralston. The Galaxy will sorely miss leading goal man Landon Donovan and central defender Michael Umana. The main difference between the sides right now is how they've managed without their respective superstars.
Dating back to the beginning of June and the last round of World Cup qualifiers, the Galaxy have earned just one win in their last six games. Conversely, the Revs claimed three victories and a draw in five games during the same stretch.
Galaxy defender Tyrone Marshall, who will join the Jamaican national team after Monday night's game, said the Revolution's depth has led to their success.
"Overall they have a good squad from 1-24," said the Galaxy center back. "Seeing how a couple of their guys got called up to the national team, it's an opportunity for the guys in behind them to step up and show their coach they belong on the field."
Galaxy players will have that same opportunity. Not only are a pair of players already gone with their national teams, Steve Sampson's team is also suffering through a number of injuries to key players. Starting right back Chris Albright still has another couple weeks of rehabilitation before he can return to the field following an MCL injury, and over the past few weeks every first-choice midfielder (Cobi Jones, Guillermo Ramirez, Peter Vagenas and Paulo Nagamura) has missed at least one game with an injury.
Despite the number of regulars missing for both sides, Sampson is still expecting a high-octane, high-energy affair for the crowd at The Home Depot Center.
"I think the players who will be on the field are going to want to show they belong. It's a great opportunity for guys on New England and the Galaxy to earn starting positions," Sampson said. "And for us, to look for that consistency we desperately need from our second- and third-tier players."
Consistency needs to come quick for the Galaxy, who are rapidly losing ground on front-runner FC Dallas in the West. Even though the Green and Gold are returning home after a four-game road swing, the Revolution isn't going to make life easy on them -- especially with a chance to install head coach Steve Nicol as coach of the MLS All-Star team with a victory on Monday.
"New England's going to come out to play," said Marshall. "They're not like other teams that try and defend and come out with a point. They're going to come out trying to win."
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.