The way Todd Dunivant sees it, the better team didn't win MLS Cup 2009.
The Galaxy finished first in the Western Conference, then beat rivals Chivas USA in the first round and a tough Houston side in the conference final before meeting eighth-seeded Real Salt Lake in the championship game.But things didn't go the Galaxy’s way at Qwest Field in Seattle last November.
“We felt pretty strongly that we were the better team and we should have won, but on that day Salt Lake beat us,” Dunivant said after training on Wednesday. “That’s how it goes.”
Having exceeded expectations and improving significantly from the previous season, the Galaxy could be forgiven for entering the 2010 season feeling good about their accomplishments from 2009.Instead, it’s both the success and failure from last year that will fuel the club this season.
“I think it’s going to drive us a little bit harder this year,” Dunivant said of the MLS Cup loss. “We don’t have an air of comfort, if that makes sense. We still have a lot to prove.”
For starters, the Galaxy need to prove to the rest of the Western Conference that 2009 was no fluke. Los Angeles seemingly caught a lot of teams off guard, and while the club wasn’t winning early on, neither was it losing. In learning not to lose, the Galaxy discovered they had a strong defense, a strong goalkeeper and the ability to score timely goals. Confidence was born.
This season, Galaxy players know coming in what the team is capable of. Thus, the team needs to surpass what happened a year ago, veteran midfielder Chris Klein said.
“Last year was a little bit different," Klein said. "It was to have a team atmosphere again and establish ourselves in the playoffs. The reality of MLS is every year it becomes a challenge to get back there. This team has the right focus and the right mentality because of how we prepared last year and what we saw from that preparation.”
What needs to be replicated more than anything from 2009 is the attitude and approach the team had when finding itself last year.
“Guys were determined last year,” Klein said. “We have a group of guys that has the right attitude. We have a better understanding of the preparation that needs to be done.”
What will help is returning nearly the entire squad. David Beckham, of course, might be out for most, if not all, of the 2010 season after tearing his Achilles tendon with AC Milan. But Beckham was never supposed to be here at the start of this season anyway. The key players from last season return, and there will be no need to search for an identity like there was throughout the early part of 2009.
“We’re starting a lot further ahead than we were last year,” Dunivant said. “Last year we were putting the pieces together through the first third of the year and getting that core. Now we have a lot of the same guys back and an understanding of what we need to do. That makes a big difference. To get that kind of continuity from year to year that really goes a long way.”