Saturday night's game between the Columbus Crew and the LA Galaxy is set to be a unique affair. The Crew announced on Friday a "significant announcement" set for two hours before kickoff. This combined with the presentation of the retiring Landon Donovan with a gift from the organization and fireworks after the match add up to a spectacle outside of the match itself.
Josie Becker, of SB Nation's LAG Confidential, and I asked some questions of each other about the teams in an attempt to familiarize people with a club they only see once a year.
Questions for LAG Confidential
Massive Report: Landon Donovan announced he would retire at the end of the season. At just 32-years old, do you expect this to stick? Could we see a Michael Jordan-like return for Donovan after he takes some time away from the game or do you expect him to be done for good?
LAG Confidential: I expect it to stick primarily because this isn't his first time dipping into the retirement pool. The comparable example of Michael Jordan doesn't fit because Jordan's decision came after huge emotional turmoil, and he still had something to keep him in shape while he was gone.
What Donovan does have in common with Jordan is that feeling that he has nothing left to accomplish. We saw him flirting with Europe in those offseason loans, thinking maybe that was the challenge still out there for him. Ultimately, he seems to have landed on what kept him from staying in Europe the first time around; he values his family over the all out dedication to his career.
Literally for half his life, every decision he's made has been soccer related. It puts a different perspective on just being 32. Remember that's the same age where David Beckham gave up European soccer for MLS. Something about that age.
MR: Crew fans are familiar with Robbie Rogers, but not as a left back where he has played recently due to injury. How has the former member of the Black and Gold done along the back line? Is he there to add offense on the left side of the field or have his defensive skills improved to the point where he can help out defensively as well?
LAGC: He's done a solid job, but his overall defensive contribution isn't much. He still occasionally takes the wrong angle but he is going after fifty-fifty balls in key situations.
His biggest contribution is his distribution on overlapping runs, he's starting to rack up assists and key passes regularly now that he's settled into his position.
A.J. DeLaGarza has the speed to make up for a defender caught out of position, but Robbie Rogers left back never would have worked if he couldn't defend. Still, it would be silly to think that's his primary responsibility.
MR: It always seems the Galaxy find a way to get hot at the right time and make a push for the MLS Cup Playoffs and the Supporters' Shield. What is it about this team that's gotten them back on track after a somewhat slow start to the campaign?
LAGC: The first half of the season always has the distractions of CONCACAF Champions League, and especially in a World Cup year both Donovan and [Omar Gonzalez] had their heads elsewhere for a few months.
Now that everyone is back full time and committed to the push, things have gotten better. Some of the biggest contributors right now didn't start the season where they're playing right now: Gyasi Zardes was on the bench, Robbie Rogers was injured, and trying to figure out how to get the best eleven players together was a struggle.
Turned out the diamond wasn't the solution but rather this Y midfield that is starting to click and gets everyone mixing the way they should.
It's gonna be fun to watch.
Questions for Massive Report
LAG Confidential: These East-West meetings are more and more of a mystery as teams have less and less regular season history. So lets get to know each other! What have the Crew done to ameliorate the concerns of the first half going into the second half of the season?
Massive Report: Strangely not much. It is no secret that Columbus started off the hottest team in the league, but that has quickly become a distant memory to Crew fans. Head coach Gregg Berhalter preaches patience as he develops a system of play that is entertaining and, with time, can yield results. In short the coaching staff has stayed the course. They did look into making signings during the transfer window (see Mix Diskerud) and it wouldn't be surprising if they attempt to add an out of contract striker to improve the offense, but the players and the coaching staff believe in what they're doing and aren't going to make any major changes quite yet.
LAGC: It seems the Crew, Dallas, and Galaxy were all in on the USMNT players who were considering a move to their domestic league. How does Berhalter's approach to team building juxtapose with Robert Warzycha's?
MR: That's a good question. Berhalter is looking for players that fit his style of play. He wants players who enjoy the possession game and are willing to play that style. A perfect example is the departure of Chad Marshall and the addition of Michael Pakrhurst. I don't believe Berhalter would have anything negative to say about Marshall, just Parkhurst fits the system better. There was a similar issue with Dominic Oduro and that's why he's now having success with Toronto FC.
With Warzycha, it seemed there was never much of a system. When he took over for Sigi Schmid after the 2008 MLS Cup winning year, he adopted that style with Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Once Schelotto left, the Black and Gold struggle to find a specific style. Players came and went, but there wasn't much of a pattern in Warzycha and technical director Brian Bliss' signings.
LAGC: How has old Galaxy friend Hector Jimenez adjusted to the Crew? Does he still hug the touch line like it was his best friend, or has he become ubiquitous on the field of play?
MR: Jimenez has been great this year in Columbus, that is before the knee injury that caused him to miss several weeks (he is back in training now). He is another example of Berhalter finding a player that fits his style. Jimenez has played on both sides of the field as well as right back when needed and has been a big part of the possession game.
Does he still hug the sideline? Not nearly as much. In this system, the "wingers" don't provide as much width as the outside backs, so he's been more involved in the middle of the field. I would actually compare him to now retired Crew player Eddie Gaven in terms of doing the little things that don't always get noticed but help a team become successful.
Crew fans are certainly glad to have him so thanks!
LAGC:Bonus: If Federico Higuain had a spirit animal, what would it be?
MR: Hmmm, this is tough. I would say a wolf. He's always roaming around looking for the ball and to be involved. Sometimes he's on his own, but when he starts the attack, the pack is with him.