Orlando City (7-7-13, 34 points) comes into this weekend's match on fire. After two victories over Eastern Conference powers, star players such as Kaká and Brek Shea are playing some of their best soccer of 2016. And on Sunday night, the Lions will get to take their shot at one of the league's most successful clubs.
Of course, nobody is going to be talking about that, because the Los Angeles Galaxy (10-4-14, 44 points) signed that guy from the Heineken commercials.
Landon Donovan may be grabbing most of the headlines this weekend, but City can't afford to lose focus on the task at hand. With just a share of the points against Los Angeles, the Lions could end the weekend at least level on points with D.C. United for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference (And potentially still ahead of DC if the New York Red Bulls do their job. The Lions and United meet at RFK in two weeks for a huge game to kick off a season series that could make or break the season).
Starting XI and Lineup Projections:
The Lions should be bolstered by the return of Cyle Larin and Kevin Molino from international duty this weekend, after both players featured in World Cup qualifying matches for their respective nations. Since Larin didn't put in a full shift against El Salvador on Tuesday night, look for him to get the start against the Galaxy.
He's also been in the Pacific time zone longer than any of this Orlando teammates, after playing a WCQ match at BC Place in Vancouver, so his body clock should be ready to go on Sunday night. These are the kind of things you look for when Jason Kreis still isn't returning your calls.
Mikey Ambrose could be in line for another appearance after Luke Boden played the full 90 minutes on Wednesday night. The young OCB call-up has acquitted himself well in his previous start with the first team, but with Orlando's back line playing with more cohesion than it has shown all season, Kreis could also go with continuity over fresh legs. Speaking of fresh legs, right back Rafael Ramos will be available after immigration issues kept him from traveling to Montreal in the midweek.
Los Angeles Galaxy:
The short version: Almost everyone you've heard of is hurt. Almost.
Former Barcelona striker Giovani dos Santos should be fit to start up top for Los Angeles, while English legend Ashley Cole has held things down at left back, opposite former USMNT defender Robbie Rogers on the right. But since the Galaxy are coming off their own midweek game (a messy 3-3 draw against Real Salt Lake), there's no telling how Bruce Arena decides to play this.
With Gyasi Zardes done for the year, Steven Gerrard and Jelle Van Damme out with injuries and Robbie Keane's status uncertain, the Galaxy will be forced to go with a skeleton crew on Sunday. That could mean that former Chicago Fire mainstays Jeff Larentowicz and Mike Magee find their way into the starting XI.
Player(s) to Watch:
You're going to make me do it aren't you? Fine. So, Landon Donovan was in the news this week.
The greatest American soccer player in history announced he was coming out of retirement to join the LA Galaxy after a rash of injuries threatened to derail his longtime club's MLS Cup hopes. Somewhere, Jürgen Klinsmann probably thinks he's getting punked.
This whole thing broke in the last 48 hours, which makes it even more incredible that Donovan should be available for selection on Sunday. While any appearance from LD would surely amount to little more than a cameo, the way the club is promoting his return certainly makes it a possibility.
At this point, it's going to be fascinating to see what Donovan can still bring to a Galaxy side that desperately needs midfield cover. He hasn't played a competitive match in over two years, but he's only 34 and provides instant leadership for Los Angeles at a time when several club veterans are on the mend.
If he dresses for this match, can we get an over/under on how many times Fox Sports cuts to Donovan on the bench? My guess is somewhere between 25-30, until he starts warming up when they'll just start ignoring the match entirely.
Prediction: Orlando City 1, Los Angeles Galaxy 1
For all the buildup this match is going to receive, I'm not expecting 90 minutes of gorgeous soccer. Pitting two tired clubs against each other, one nursing several huge injuries and the other playing across the continent, the chances in this one could be at a premium.
Orlando City has shown it can hang with anyone in MLS, and a well-rested squad wouldn't be a horrible bet to grab all three points against the banged up Galaxy. But a share of the spoils would still be huge for Orlando against a Galaxy side that's unbeaten at home, as the Lions look to stay in contention for the Eastern Conference playoffs.