CARSON, Calif. – Robbie Keane's ailing ankle could keep him out of action for the third game in four weeks, and teen phenom Jack McBean's growth spurt has been halted for a couple of months, it appears.
If the LA Galaxy ever needed its depth up top, it's now, and their rookie forwards say they're ready to make something big of the opportunity.
Charlie Rugg and Gyasi Zardes enjoyed fine Major League Soccer debuts in last week's victory at Real Salt Lake – Rugg started and scored (watch video above), and Zardes was electrifying at moments off the bench – and they could play important roles in Sunday's showdown with the Houston Dynamo at the Home Depot Center (11 pm ET, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Rugg appears likely to start up front with Jose Villarreal, and Zardes, who is nearing full fitness after preseason foot surgery, could be a second-half spark as LA (4-1-2) look for their third successive victory, all against league powers.
Keane will be back soon – head coach Bruce Arena says he'll potentially be ready to go Sunday night – but McBean's broken collarbone will keep him on the sidelines probably until July, so there are minutes to spread elsewhere. With Mike Magee and Landon Donovan primarily in midfield roles, some of those minutes will find Rugg and Zardes.
“You need a deep roster, and I've always believed you can never have enough forwards,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan told MLSsoccer.com. “So now with Robbie a little bit on the shelf and now McBean going down, it gives these young guys an opportunity. Honestly, we weren't sure what it would look like against Salt Lake, but it sure gave us hope there's a lot of potential there.”
Rugg, a first-round SuperDraft pick out of Boston College, is a big, physical forward with speed, strength, the ability to hold the ball and battle in the air. Zardes (at right), who signed a Homegrown player contract after his junior season at Cal State Bakersfield, has uncommon speed and skill and a nose for the net. Their upside is tremendous.
“Charlie's good, man. He's a handful,” Magee said. “Gyasi's great, too. You don't want to find yourself one-on-one with him with the ball. He's kind of a dynamic we haven't really had, with so much speed and skill. That speed kills.”
Rugg was solid against Real Salt Lake, looking far more seasoned that he is. He admits to “a little bit of nerves” before kickoff but says he felt “comfortable and natural” in the game.
“All the success that I have is really special to me,” he said, “because I haven't forgotten that I wasn't invited to the Combine originally. I was kind of overlooked. It's all motivated me.”
Zardes might have been the No. 1 pick in the draft if he hadn't committed to the Galaxy, in whose Academy he played, and his time on the sidelines with a broken fifth metatarsal provided perspective.
“It definitely helped me,” he said. “I'm taking each and every day like it's my last, because you never know when you'll get hurt. ... You have to mature quick and really be prepared when your name is called to go out on the pitch.”
The opportunity today will pay off down the road.
“Getting these minutes, it's like a deposit in the bank,” Sarachan said. “Sooner or later, when you [make a] withdrawal, you're comfortable with the fact that they're not going to be too nervous. They've experienced it already.”