CARSON, Calif. – The goal is to avoid the play-in game, but after taking just a point from their last two games, that's where the LA Galaxy appear to be headed. They're five points behind second-place Real Salt Lake with two games to go, and Seattle are two points ahead with a game in hand.
Last weekend's home game against Real Salt Lake was must-win, or at least must-tie, and the 2-1 defeat has the Galaxy (15-12-5) looking for perfection – and a little help – as they close the campaign Oct. 21 at Western Conference winners San Jose and Oct. 28 at home against the Sounders.
“These are always going to be hard games,” LA captain Landon Donovan said following Saturday's loss. “This was a disappointing one because we were playing a team that was within reach. And so now they built a little bit of a gap. We've known all along this would be a battle at the end. Ideally, we don't play in the fourth/fifth game, but we're a team that can overcome that.
“The goal is to be at least third. If you're fourth, obviously there's a disadvantage in playing an extra game. We're a deep team, and if we have to do that, we have to do it.”
To avoid that, the Galaxy need to sweep its remaining matches and see Seattle (14-7-10) get no more than four points from their games Oct. 17 against Real Salt Lake and Oct. 21 against FC Dallas. They can catch RSL (17-11-4), too, if the Utahns claim just one point from the Seattle showdown and their Oct. 27 finale at home against Vancouver.
“We certainly don't want the play-in game,” center back Omar Gonzalez said. “I think right now we're just trying to get in second or third, and it's looking right now like it's kind of tough to be second, so we're fighting for that third spot. I think Seattle plays Salt Lake next, so, hopefully, they can help us out there. But we've just got to win out.”
The difference between second or third might be negligible. There's no universal agreement that playing at home in the second game of an aggregate series is an advantage over playing at home in the opener.
“I think if you're playing home and away, it doesn't matter, to be honest with you,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “That extra 30 minutes [if aggregate is even after 180 minutes] maybe never comes into play. Who knows? ... I think as long as it's home and home, no one really has an advantage.”
And while his players seem to have all the scenarios covered, Arena claims he's not paying attention to the order of things.
“I haven’t really looked at the standings. I don’t really care,” he said. “We go out the next game, and we play to win. ... It’s going to be like that [with teams exchanging places] right down to the final game.”