Heading into Saturday’s game at New York, the buzz surrounding the encounter was centered around the host Red Bulls, and for good reason.
New York’s two latest Designated Player signings – Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez – were each making the home MLS debuts, and the club’s rise to Eastern Conference supremacy was set to take flight.
The visiting Los Angeles Galaxy, however, reminded the Red Bulls that player acquisitions alone do not equal respectability and success.
Before a sold-out crowd and a nationally-televised audience, the Galaxy thwarted the Red Bulls and handed the hosts a 1-0 loss, a result that harkened back to the first half of the 2010 MLS campaign.
"Massive win for us," Galaxy captain Landon Donovan told Fox Soccer Channel after the match. "We’re back to the way we played in the beginning of the year."
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After all, it was a shutout the likes of which the Galaxy had not seen since before Donovan and Edson Buddle had rejoined the team from World Cup duty.
With the result, the Galaxy snapped several dubious streaks. The club had not recorded a league shutout since a June 26 draw at Toronto.
A stretch of eight matches followed in which the Galaxy could not keep a single clean sheet. It included a 3-2 home loss to the Chicago Fire on Aug. 1, US Open Cup elimination at Seattle and a two-leg affair against the Puerto Rico Islanders which saw LA eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League.
However, on Saturday the Galaxy played like they had earlier in the season. Edson Buddle put the Galaxy ahead with an early goal and the club made it stand with tough defending and solid goalkeeping.
Entering the match, the focus was on New York's three Designated Players. While the trio of Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez started the game and had their opportunities to influence the match, none of the three could do enough to solve the Galaxy's defense.
Angel came the closest to equalizing, rattling a 45th-minute shot off the crossbar. Henry also had a chance on a one-on-one with Donovan Ricketts, but the Galaxy's standout goalkeeper turned Henry away.
Of New York's 12 total shots, only two finished on target.
"The defense did a good job," Galaxy forward Edson Buddle said. "I tried to do my part. The defense was solid all night, they got a shutout and we were able to hold onto the lead."
And while the focus was on the Red Bulls, Galaxy players couldn’t help but keep their boss in mind.
Before the game, the Galaxy announced that Bruce Arena had fallen ill with viral complications on Wednesday. The recent Hall of Fame inductee spent two nights in the hospital but doctors said Arena was expected to make a full recovery, according to the club. Arena was not on the bench for the game but took the match in from a private suite.
Assistant head coaches Dave Sarachan and Cobi Jones managed the game in Arena's absence and watched as the league leaders got their swagger back.
"There’s been a lot of talk about NY in the last few weeks," Donovan said. "And we wanted to let people know who the best team in the league is."