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Bruce Arena talks about Galaxy lineup with a poker face

Robbie Keane

Galaxy forward Robbie Keane has been out of the lineup since having surgery on his right knee in March. 

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Bruce Arena is already the most successful coach in the history of Major League Soccer. But if he ever decides to take on a second job, poker might be a good fit.

During a season in which the Galaxy has lost 10 starters to injury or suspension, Arena has become adept at bluffing his way around lineup questions to keep the other side guessing. This week was no exception as the coach kept his cards close to the vest heading up to Sunday’s game with the New England Revolution at StubHub Center.

There was no hiding the fact defender Ashley Cole would miss the game because of a red card. But what about forward Robbie Keane and midfielder Steven Gerrard, who have been rehabbing injuries?

“We’ll see,” Arena said Friday.

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A day later, he told reporters Keane would start and Gerrard would be on the bench.

And midfielder Nigel de Jong, who is eligible to return from a three-game suspension?

“He’s looking good. He’s solid,” Arena said Friday.

A day later, he said De Jong wasn’t looking good at all. Hobbled by a knee injury, he won’t play Sunday.

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But even if Arena knows when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, his lineup choices this week could be a bit of a gamble. Although Keane and Gerrard have looked good in training, they are both 35 and have combined to miss more minutes than they’ve played this season — Keane sitting out five games following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and Gerrard skipping three with calf and groin strains.

Plus the Galaxy, who are riding a league-best six-game unbeaten streak, haven’t lost since Keane went out while Giovani dos Santos, who has struggled to find chemistry with Keane, excelled in his absence, scoring four times in the last three games.

In their three games without Gerrard, on the other hand, the Galaxy are winless, scoring only twice and stumbling to a 1-1 draw in Kansas City last week.

“I’m here, whenever needed,” Gerrard said.

Yet even without the subterfuge picking a lineup has been a challenge this season for Arena, who hasn’t started the same 11 in consecutive games.

“Someone’s injured or someone’s suspended; we haven’t had a full-strength team,” Keane said. “Once we get everybody back on the field I think we’ll be strong.”

Even at half strength the Galaxy (4-1-3) have been good, entering the weekend unbeaten at home and leading the league in goals (18) and goal differential (plus-10). Still, Arena insists there’s plenty of room for improvement.

“We can play better than we’ve played,” he said. “We didn’t win our last game so we’re looking to get better in that category.”

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New England, meanwhile, comes into the game with just two losses — only the Galaxy and Real Salt Lake have lost fewer. But the Revolution (1-2-7) also have a league-low one win, having played to seven draws. And they haven’t won at StubHub Center in four seasons.

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter: @kbaxter11


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