CARSON, Calif. – Edson Buddle's return to form, Christian Wilhelmsson's acclimation to his new team and Landon Donovan's and David Beckham's returns from injury provides Bruce Arena with some tantalizing attacking options as he prepares for Thursday's Knockout Round match against the Vancouver Whitecaps (10:30 pm ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS2; LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com).
With Buddle sharp for, really, the first time all season, the LA Galaxy coach pushed Donovan back into midfield for Sunday's 1-0 victory over Seattle – the first time he's not been up top since May – and on the left side, with Wilhelmsson on the right flank.
With Mike Magee and Marcelo Sarvas on the bench, Arena effectively had 13 first-choice players and heads into the MLS Cup playoffs with the best attacking depth he's had all year.
“It's great for Bruce to have options,” noted Beckham, whose central-midfield partnership with Juninho lies at the heart of LA's attack. “Marcelo's obviously been in good form, but Edson's come in, he's played well, he can beat some people up up there, and it's good to have a player like him. And then with Landon's place on the left and Christian's on the right, it gives us many options.”
Donovan and Robbie Keane have been one of MLS' most dangerous frontline pairings since June, but Buddle's size and strength are a perfect foil for the mobile and savvy Irishman. Donovan has the freedom to roam in midfield but must take on more defensive responsibility.
Where he plays, Donovan said, is “up to Bruce. Edson's been playing well now, and when he's healthy and playing well, he gives us an element that we don't have. He can help up a lot. ... I can play anywhere. I'll let Bruce decide that.”
Right back Sean Franklin departed at halftime of Sunday’s match with tightness in his left hamstring, but he said it was nothing major.
“It was just feeling a little tight,” he said. “I know the more important game is Thursday. It's good to be smart. I could have gone the [second] half, but it's better not to go and be safer for Thursday.”
Meanwhile, Donovan went the full 90 on his ailing left knee, then, when asked how the knee fared, declared it off-limits for discussion.
“Knee's great, thanks for asking,” the Galaxy captain said. “Let's not talk about it anymore. I'll be fine. We got a deal? No one asks me about injuries? I'll be fine.”
Keane won the Galaxy's Player of the Year award in media balloting. He called it a “great achievement” and Arena termed it “an honor he really deserves.”
The Irishman also won the team's Golden Boot, with 16 goals (the other awards went do A.J. DeLaGarza as top defender and Donovan for humanitarian service).
“I hate to say this,” said Arena, who gets great glee from needling reporters who regularly cover his team, “I think that award was voted on by the sportswriters, which is amazing that you guys got that right. I agree completely. Well done.”