By Kyle McCarthy
The California Clasico returns to the postseason stage for the first time since 2005 when San Jose visits Los Angeles tonight. Here are five points to watch ahead of the clash at the Home Depot Center:
1. Lingering hostilities: Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez offered several critical comments about Steven Lenhart and the Earthquakes’ style of play after an ill-tempered 2-2 draw on Oct. 21. This match provides the perfect opportunity for the Earthquakes to issue their response on the field.
2. Ringing the changes: Bruce Arena promised a series of alterations to his starting XI after the 2-1 victory over Vancouver in the Knockout Round on Thursday night. He will hope to include A.J. DeLaGarza and Sean Franklin in the lineup after they missed out against the Whitecaps because of injury. Arena could also turn to Marcelo Sarvas or Christian Wilhelmsson in midfield to allow Landon Donovan to slide up front to partner Robbie Keane.
3. Squeezing the game in midfield: The home side will benefit if it can turn this affair into a midfield battle. It is hard to generate any form of rhythm against the Earthquakes, but the Galaxy possesses a significant advantage in the middle third. If the Galaxy can keep the ball a bit, it might stymie the visitors a touch and relieve some of the pressure on the back four.
4. Limiting the service: This mantra applies to both camps. Los Angeles benefits when David Beckham launches diagonal balls from deep in midfield and supplies dangerous set pieces into the penalty area. San Jose loves to play through the wide areas and serve plenty of balls toward Steven Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski. Both sides must attempt to limit that sort of service in order to retain their defensive shape.
5. Applying pressure to a vulnerable opponent: San Jose will have watched the Galaxy’s defensive performance against the Whitecaps with no shortage of glee. If DeLaGarza isn’t able to take his place in central defense, then the Galaxy will look a bit unsteady in central defense. San Jose possesses the tools - a more direct route through Lenhart (assuming Alan Gordon does not start after recovering from an ankle knock) and a more deft approach from the canny Wondolowski to find space in the penalty area - to exacerbate the Galaxy’s concerns.