Now that D.C. United is unfortunately out of the CONCACAF Champions League, they'll face, well, another team that made CCL knockout round. The LA Galaxy are coming off an even worse loss than the Black-and-Red, having been hounded out of the competition thanks to a 4-0 loss at Santos Laguna. LA rarely gets blown away, so it will be interesting to see how they react.
One thing we can count on with certainty is that Bruce Arena will play his preferred "keep it simple, stupid" 442. We may occasionally see Nigel De Jong drop deep underneath Steven Gerrard, particularly if United is creating a lot of danger from that area of the field. Arena made that modification with LA in Torreon, though the damage had already been done at that point. Still, that's a modification that will happen in response to something rather than a look we'll see from the kickoff. Arena and LA are firmly of the opinion that they'll just hone their Plan A and let the opponent worry about how to cope rather than trying to tinker with a single-game plan (especially at this time of the year).
With five days to rest players, Arena will almost certainly not be sitting anyone out due to their CCL obligations. Any chance of that happening was reduced further by the scoreline allowing the Galaxy to make 3 subs by the 68th minute. Both teams should be at full strength, give or take the presence of Bill Hamid.
In goal, Dan Kennedy is back in LA after having left the gone-but-not-forgotten Chivas USA to spend a season with FC Dallas. Kennedy was supplanted in Texas by Jesse Gonzalez, and was available on the cheap. Kennedy's reputation as a shot-stopper has always been there, but I'm not convinced that he's much of an organizer, and he's not the best on crosses either. United would do well to make him think early, because his relationship with the LA back four looks like it's a long way from being where it should be.
Robbie Rogers, following Ashley Cole's move to LA, has moved over to play right back. Rogers is comfortable with his right foot, though, so this won't change too much from United's perspective. He's still very good as an attacking fullback, and he's still a touch vulnerable one-on-one. The Black-and-Red might want to go with Lamar Neagle here, as the former Seattle attacker will be able to help track Rogers defensively while also providing the sort of direct attacking play that sometimes flusters Rogers.
Cole should be at left back after missing the Galaxy's second CCL match to fly back to Rome for the birth of his first child. Cole is expected back, but he's a 35 year old brand new father having to fly from Italy to LA. I think there's a small chance that Cole sits out, which would mean a second straight start for Dave Romney. If Cole does start, though. United needs to make sure to put the speed of Patrick Nyarko and Luciano Acosta to work down the Galaxy left. Even if he's able to play, Cole probably won't be at his best, and again we're talking about a 35 year old fullback. Until he proves otherwise, Cole is a target.
Van Damme and A.J. DeLaGarza will make up the center back partnership. It's a similar dynamic to the pairing LA sent out for years, with DeLaGarza covering for the larger, more aggressive Omar Gonzalez. Van Damme is even more aggressive than Gonzalez, though his reading of the game and agility appear to be better. United is going to want to make sure to not play the ball in the air towards the big Belgian, and attackers need to be wary of just how hard he can tackle.
In the midfield, de Jong may end up being the best newcomer in MLS (though as a defensive midfielder, his chance of winning Newcomer of the Year isn't that great). Provided his sometimes troublesome back lets him play 28-30 games, de Jong will probably be the best DM in MLS this season. He's not necessarily to be seen as a dangerous passing threat or someone who will pop up in the box as a scoring threat, though. de Jong has so much defending to do thanks to the rest of the midfield that he has to apply his prodigious work rate almost entirely to defensive duties. As with Van Damme, you take more than two touches near de Jong at your own risk.
de Jong has to do a ton of work in large part because his partner, Gerrard, simply doesn't do much defensive work. Gerrard is still a threat as a passer, and he does perk up when LA gets into the attacking third. He has surely not lost the ability to shoot from long range, either. United is going to have to pressure him constantly when defending, and then take advantage of the fact that LA's central midfield is basically just de Jong in defensive phases. If Gerrard needs a rest after going 90 minutes in Mexico, Arena would probably rotate Baggio Husidic in, but in all likelihood Gerrard will start.
The Dutchman is also busy because of the Galaxy's wingers. Gyasi Zardes, after spending most of the preseason as a forward, is back on the right flank. Zardes is certainly a threat going forward, and his combination of speed and size makes him a real problem for Taylor Kemp. However. Zardes is known for not really being very good when it comes to defensive involvement. He puts in the work, but there are still times where it seems like the game passes him by when LA doesn't have the ball.
On the left side, Emmanuel Boateng started both of LA's CCL games. This is partially because Sebastian Lletget missed some of the preseason with an injury, but LA also seems very confident in the speedy Ghanaian. Still, Boateng is a pure winger, which means he's not doing all that much defensively. If Lletget is considered fit enough to play an hour, he may start, but he was only given 32 minutes on Tuesday. Most likely, this game has come a week too early for the former West Ham midfielder.
Up front, Arena has reverted back to last year's pairing of Giovani dos Santos and Robbie Keane. On one hand, that's two very skillful, dangerous players lining up as a forward duo. On the other hand, both players really want to have the same role, and rather than amplify each other's talents they tend to feel a bit redundant. LA's attack is still very dangerous - you could trot me out alongside Keane and still score goals - but it isn't what it used to be with Keane and Landon Donovan.
Off the bench, Arena used Mike Magee as a sub in both CCL legs, and I suspect he will come in on either flank or up front at some point in this game. Arena could also bring in Jose Villarreal in a similar fashion, and though Villarreal is not a big name in MLS he's a player to worry about due to his tendency to create a lot of scoring chances in limited minutes. Whoever doesn't start between Lletget or Boateng is also probably subbing into this game as well.
If, however, LA wants to shut up shop, they can turn to Husidic in any position in the midfield. With LA's plethora of very attack-minded wide men and Gerrard's 35 year old legs, Husidic would make a lot of sense for the Galaxy if they have a lead to defend. If he comes on, LA will also be more of a threat on set pieces. Husidic is by no means a giant, but he has a great knack for getting himself involved inside the penalty area.
LA will also want to keep that in mind, because their best set piece threat might not be available. Alan Gordon is currently listed as questionable with a neck injury, and he didn't travel for LA's second leg trip to Torreon. Gordon is a unique player for LA, so if he is ruled out the Galaxy will simply have to do without an aerial presence in the attack. If he does make the bench, though, Arena will probably give him 15 minutes (particularly if the score is tied or United is in the lead).