Why does this feel like the last game preview I’m going to write?
On Sunday the LA Galaxy will attempt to ward off demons from their past. Like last year, they’re once again locked in a struggle for their playoff lives. Like last year, Real Salt Lake plays the part of postseason spoiler. Like last year, LA is dangerously close to crashing out disappointingly early.
Have you re-watched the scoreless draw from Saturday? I have. It doesn’t play out any different the second time: Real Salt Lake dominates the possession, shuts down LA’s attack, and lets fly a flurry of well-placed shots. It’s clear who’s in control, and were it not for a flawless performance between the posts from keeper Jaime Penedo, the Galaxy would be gazing out longingly from a hole they dug themselves.
“Games there are never great games, because of the altitude,” Bruce Arena told Corner’s own Josh Guesman. “If you told me in a home-and-home series that you have to win your game at home to advance, I would think that’s pretty good.”
That’s the situation the Galaxy find themselves in. Because of MLS’s new away goals rule, any scoring tie will send Salt Lake to the next round. Arena practically bristles at talk of the new rule: “It’s not that complicated,” he insists. “Our strategy is to win the game. We’re not worried about all the other math that everyone has figured out.”
“Our strategy is to win the game. We’re not worried about all the other math that everyone has figured out.” —Bruce Arena
“It’s just a huge game that we need to play like ourselves,” said Robbie Rogers. That subtle hint that the Galaxy haven’t been themselves lately is exactly what keeps fans up at night. LA is mired in a 220-minute goalless drought. For a team that led the league with sixty-nine regular season goals, three-and-a-half hours without one feels like an eternity.
“We’re fine on offense. We know how to score goals,” says Landon Donovan. “We have a lot of confidence that when we play at home, we’ll create a lot of chances. It’s creating the chances – which we’ll do – and then hitting the back of the net.”
Sounds easy. But if it’s not – if RSL make it hard, if the visitors eke out a tie – it’ll mean the end of Landon Donovan’s career. Those are the stakes.
There’s one bad omen I just can’t shake: the Galaxy have only lost at home once this year. It was the first game of a long season, and it can’t mean much. But it was Real Salt Lake who toppled the Galaxy in their own stadium. Does that matter? Does that knowledge weigh heavy in the heads of the LA Galaxy?
Robbie Rogers laughs at the question. “I didn’t even know that,” he says. “So, no.”
The second leg of the Western Conference semifinals kicks off Sunday, in Carson, at 4:30 PM.