The gap in quality between the top and bottom of Major League Soccer was glaringly obvious in California on Saturday as reigning MLS Cup Champions LA Galaxy put on a dominant display against Toronto FC.
For large stretches of the match it looked like men against boys, which is hardly surprising given the difference in the quality of players on each team. Toronto's record through its first 30 matches is now worse than any other season in its history, and at the Home Depot Center on Saturday the Reds' injury-ravaged squad was second-best from first whistle to last.
In the end, defensive sloppiness led to the final scoreline being much closer than it needed to be for the Galaxy, but the outcome was never really in doubt after LA stormed into a three-goal lead by the 36th minute.
The Galaxy's free flowing attacking play in the first half was some of the best football I have seen all season, although Toronto FC contributed to the ease of which LA were able to create a path to goal. TFC goalkeeper Freddy Hall was out of position on the first goal scored by Juninho in the 11th minute, and no one closed down the young Brazilian as he fired in his second of the night in spectacular fashion late in the half. A double from Robbie Keane ensured Toronto's goals from Terry Dunfield and Luis Silva would be mere consolation.
Much focus is placed on the Galaxy's star power. Against Toronto FC they were without an injured David Beckham, but they could still call upon Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and their latest signing, Swedish international Christian Wilhelmsson. It is an embarrassment of riches, but Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena has carefully and successfully assembled a high quality squad that is about much more than the big name players.
Juninho deserves as much credit as anyone for the Galaxy's recent good run. The 23-year-old has now scored seven goals on the season and continues to show maturity well beyond his years. Juninho's fellow countryman Marcelo Sarvas has also proved a very shrewd pick-up for Arena's side. With the way the duo is playing together in the middle of the park at the moment, it's difficult to pick out a better central midfield pairing in Major League Soccer right now.
The Galaxy have combined their foreign additions with excellent choices in the MLS SuperDraft in recent years, and their defence is a shining example of what can be achieved by building through the draft.
Ironically, with Toronto FC on its way to having the league's worst defence for the second straight season, the LA backline could actually have been playing for the Reds. Todd Dunivant – arguably the best left back in the league – was traded away by Toronto ahead of the 2009 season after recovering from a serious injury.
LA's central defensive pairing of Omar Gonzalez and AJ DeLaGarza were both taken by LA in the 2009 SuperDraft when Toronto FC had three first-round picks. Gonzalez went third, a pick after TFC had taken midfielder Sam Cronin, and DeLaGarza was taken 19th (TFC picked O'Brian White fourth and Stefan Frei 13th). A year earlier, the Galaxy selected right back Sean Franklin at four. Toronto had been in line to hold the second overall but traded it away to FC Dallas the previous season in exchange for Richard Mulrooney (he played only two matches for the team before being traded).
While Toronto are still searching for players to provide defensive improvement, the Galaxy's decisions have clearly paid off and they are well positioned to be successful once again this year. In 2008 the Galaxy missed the playoffs for the third straight season. They're now heading to the post-season for the fourth year in a row.
The final few weeks of the regular season will give an interesting insight into what lies ahead in the playoffs as the Galaxy face three of the other top five Western teams in their final three matches of the year. A slow start to the year has hampered their chances of repeating as Supporters Shield winners as the top team in the regular season, but in their current form it is difficult to bet against the Galaxy repeating their MLS Cup triumph.