Another week, another game, another D.C. United opponent that had to adjust to the offseason retirement of a huge name. Last week, it was the New York Red Bulls, sans Thierry Henry. This week the 2014 MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy come to town without the MLS and USMNT legend Landon Donovan.
But that's not all.
The MLS scheduling gods, Jurgen Klinsmann, and FIFA international windows have all come together to rob the Galaxy of their two high-scoring strikers, Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes. Keane will be with Ireland in their upcoming Euro 2016 qualifier against Poland, while Zardes is headed to Europe for friendlies with the US against Denmark and Switzerland. And United manager Ben Olsen was none too coy in saying that the absence of those two is a positive for his own side.
"It certainly matters when you're dealing with Robbie Keane and [Gyasi] Zardes," Olsen told reporters on Tuesday. "There's two of the best forwards in the league. It's a good time to play them, I'm not going to lie about that."
But the LA Galaxy are the LA Galaxy nonetheless. They are still managed by Bruce Arena, one of the most successful managers in the league history, and they have plenty of experience all around the field to make up for the international absences of Keane and Zardes.
Keane was a non factor last year though as well when the two teams met in August at the StubHub Center. With Keane given a rest, Donovan led the way with a goal and two assists in a 4-1 route. Fatigue was an issue for United, having just played at Sporting Kansas City days earlier, but the performance had a sour feeling about it.
"Last year they didn't have Keane, and they put a whopping on us," skipper Bobby Boswell said on Tuesday. "We didn't start the game the best, gave the ball away, and they came out and punished us. It was downhill from there."
The Galaxy boast one of the more experienced midfield and defense groups in all of MLS, anchored by Omar Gonzalez in the back, and Juninho in the midfield. With Gonzalez left off Klinsmann's roster for the upcoming European friendlies, United will have to find a way to kick start an attack that has scored just one goal in the past two games against one of the better defenders in the league.
"They also have some replacements that are pretty good, and their midfield and backs aren't too shabby," Olsen said of the Galaxy. "They're still a very good team without those two services, so we expect a good game. We are all ready to move on, and focus on the LA game. It will be good to get back in our building, and hopefully show a good response after the weekend.
Boswell noted as well that the way that the five-time MLS Cup champions play is a level that few, if any, can match in MLS. Which will make them a tough out, regardless of who starts up top for them, though Alan Gordon and his penchant for last minute magic is sure to get a start.
"They move the ball one and two touch. They move it better than most teams in the league, if they're not better than everyone," Boswell added. "It gives them more time on the ball, so they are able to pick the right passes. So we got to try to get in their face so they don't have as much time, and control their front guys."
After being left shorthanded against the New York Red Bulls this past weekend, Olsen is getting closer to having some of his players back in action. News broke on Tuesday that Miguel Aguilar's absence from the bench on Sunday was due to a work permit issue, that is forcing him to train apart from the team at the moment.
The hope from United's end is that it will clear up before Saturday's game, but the end of the issue still has no definitive end date.
"Right now it would be nice to have him," Olsen said of Aguilar. "I don't have a lot of offensive options, but that's not an excuse. But he will get back in there, and I think you'll see each week now some guys fill into that [match day] 18, whether its [Michael] Farfan or [Luis] Silva.
Silva, who was joint top scorer United last season, did not take part in any preseason games and hasn't seen the field or bench yet through four games this season, was fully participating in practice on Tuesday. Only his fitness and match readiness have to be worked on before he can finally take the field again after several set backs in his return from injury.
"Now we just have to build his fitness and confidence with the muscle strength stuff," Olsen said of Silva. "But he will get there, and he [already] looks good."