GALAXY: After wins, now it's must-win
CARSON -- The buzz following the Galaxy's unprecedented comeback to beat Real Salt Lake hadn't diminished in the least two days later, and L.A.'s “big statement” was the primary topic following the final prep before Saturday night's pivotal Home Depot Center meeting with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Until Landon Donovan opened his mouth.
“It's over,” he said flatly. “Let's talk about Vancouver. We've got to move on.”
The clash with the 'Caps (7-3-5, 26 points) certainly is a big one following successive victories over Portland and RSL, in which the Galaxy (5-8-2, 17 points), who had gone seven in a row without a win, grinded out a victory in perfect 2011 style, then overcame a two-goal deficit to win in the toughest venue in Major League Soccer.
It's starting to feel a bit like it used to, but they don't want to get ahead of themselves.
“I don't think we're taking our foot off the gas,” defender Todd Dunivant said following Friday's training session at HDC. “We're still out of the playoffs at this stage, and we still have a long way to go. I don't think we've turned the corner, but we certainly made big strides, and I think there's a lot of optimism within the group, winning two games like that and, for having as poor start as we did, being right in the playoff hunt now.
“We have 19 games to go, and there's a lot of work to do.”
Wednesday's win at RSL was historic: The Utahns had never lost after holding a two-goal lead, not in 234 MLS matches dating to their 2005 launch. The Galaxy was behind, 2-0, in the 24th minute, took advantage of two misplays to pull even, then won when Donovan finished a sublime ball behind the backline from Mike Magee in the 68th minute.
Coach Bruce Arena called it “a good statement,” Dunivant a “pretty good statement.”
The “big difference” from earlier in the season? Says Dunivant: “Maybe we have that game in March or April, and we kind of give up or we turn on each other [after falling behind by two goals]. We don't make that comeback.”
What's different, Arena says, is “we are playing more like a team. Simplest way I can describe it.”
“Since the day I got back [from this month's World Cup qualifiers],” Donovan said, “there's a different mentality and attitude around here, and we need to continue that. In this league, there's a very fine line between winning and losing, and we've been doing things the right way the last few weeks.”
David Beckham noted there is “more spirit there, there's more character, and there's a lot more happy faces. It's nice when you win a game.”
The Whitecaps, pushovers as MLS newbies last year, have become something of a force under Martin Rennie in year two and come in sitting third in the West, with more wins and nearly as many points as accumulated all of last year. Fifth place makes the playoffs, but third avoids the wild-card round, and the game offers a six-point jump, either way, for the seventh-place Galaxy.
“Coming out of the [three-week MLS] break, we wanted to get some points, and we were able to do that in our first two games,” Dunivant said. “Vancouver would be an exclamation point on that. Without a doubt, we're looking at this as a huge game. If we don't get points out of this, then the Salt Lake game suddenly doesn't mean quite as much.”
Said Donovan: “We're still in a big hole, and we've got to make sure that we keep winning. ... We need to get three points. It's a big swing if we lose this game.”
WORTH NOTING: Robbie Keane is back from Euro 2012 and available for the Galaxy. ... L.A. is still missing six injured players, including forwards Edson Buddle and Adam Cristman and center back Leonardo. Four more players are “questionable,” with midfielder Kyle Nakazawa joining the list with back spasms. ... Beckham was one yellow card from suspension, but he passed a “good-behavior incentive” threshold against RSL, and now won't sit until two more bookings. He picked up his fourth yellow of the season May 23 against San Jose, but has been clean for three games. Donovan and Juninho also are two yellows from suspension. ... The Galaxy romped in both meetings last year, Vancouver's first in MLS, posting a 4-0 decision July 30 in B.C. (with Donovan scoring twice) and a 3-0 victory Sept. 17 at HDC (with Magee scoring twice). They'll play again July 18 in Vancouver and Sept. 1 at HDC. ... The Whitecaps' first MLS road win was at HDC, 1-0 over Chivas USA on March 17. They're 2-2-2 in away games. ... The Galaxy will open CONCACAF Champions League play Aug. 23 at HDC against El Salvador's Isidro Metapan. ... Allen Chapman, the referee in Chivas' victory Wednesday night over Montreal at HDC, sticks around to officiate this one.
- THE OPPONENT
Head coach: Martin Rennie
Key players: F Sebastien Le Toux, F Eric Hassli, M Davide Chiumiento, D Jay DeMerit, G Joe Cannon, D Alain Rochat, D Lee Young-Pyo
Local guys: D Jordan Harvey (Mission Viejo), M John Thorrington (Palos Verdes) and former Galaxy G Cannon
Update: The Whitecaps (7-3-5) finished last in MLS in its debut season but were making changes before the end. Rennie, a terrifically successful coach in America's minor leagues, was brought on board last summer and started as head coach in the offseason, and he's quickly built a winner. The 'Caps are third in the Western Conference with 26 points from 15 games, are riding a five-game league unbeaten streak and just took seven of nine points from a three-game, 11-day home stretch. There's significant attacking talent, with Le Toux, Hassli, Chiumiento and, increasingly, rookie speedster Darren Mattocks, who scored twice to beat Houston on June 10, picked up yellow cards about a minute apart last weekend against Colorado, and served his suspension in Wednesday's 1-1 draw against New York. They've recorded seven shutouts, too, but conceded three or four in all three defeats.
- INJURY REPORT
Out: D Andrew Boyens (sports hernia), F Edson Buddle (right knee surgery), F Adam Cristman (concussion), D Omar Gonzalez (left ACL tear), M Dan Keat (right knee surgery), D Leonardo (right knee inflammation).
Questionable: D Bryan Gaul (facial fracture), M Hector Jimenez (left quad hematoma), M Kyle Nakazawa (back spasms), F Pat Noonan (right quad strain).
Out: F Atiba Harris (right knee surgery), F Omar Salgado (right foot fracture), G Brian Sylvestre (right knee surgery).
Doubtful: M Matt Watson (right ankle sprain).
- THE GAME
Referee: Allen Chapman
TV: KDOC/Channel 56 (English) and KWHY/Channel 22 (Spanish)
Radio: K-Talk (KTLK-AM/1150, English) and ESPN Deportes (KWKW-AM/1330, Spanish)