German Alegria

Then and now

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CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy’s 1-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls last Saturday marked their 13th victory of the season, one more than in all of 2009. The Galaxy (13-3-4) also have 43 points and need only five more to equal their total from a year ago, when they reached the MLS Cup final in Seattle.

So how do the teams compare? Quite well, actually. Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said the similarities are numerous, but there also are notable differences.

“We’ve upgraded in about four or five positions,” Donovan said. “The three Brazilians (Juninho, Leonardo and Alex Cazumba), Clint (Mathis, since retired) helped us a little and (rookie) Mikey Stephens has helped us a lot.

“The other part of that is last year we were working hard to get to a point where we were consistent and knew how to play and knew what we were doing. We started the season this year with that mentality and that attitude and confidence.

“At the end of last year we reeled off quite a few wins. This year we started the same way … that’s why we’re so much further ahead.”

Donovan, who leads MLS with 11 assists in 14 games – teammate Edson Buddle has a league-leading 13 goals in 15 appearances -- also said having a full season playing for head coach Bruce Arena has helped tremendously. Arena arrived in Los Angeles in August of 2008, and it wasn’t until last season that he fully implemented his system and has the Galaxy atop the Western Conference with the league’s best record heading into Saturday afternoon’s tilt in the Bay Area against rival the San Jose Earthquakes.

“In the history of this league, the teams that have been the most successful have had consistency in their team, in their players, in their coaches and their philosophies,” Donovan said. “Now we have consistency that we all understand. We have a way of playing that we all understand and we know what works for us.

“Historically in this league that’s the way it’s been and we’re proving it again.”

But not without a few struggles along the way. The 2009 team rebounded from an unusual 1-1-9 start to finish 12-6-12. This year’s club started 10-0-2 but then went through a 3-2-2 stretch that featured one loss, 3-2 to the Chicago Fire, in which the Galaxy trailed 3-0 after just 20 minutes. There also was a 4-1 loss to the Puerto Rico Islanders of the U.S. Soccer Division 2 Pro League, in a Preliminary Round game of the CONCACAF Champions League. The Galaxy have since been eliminated from the competition, as well as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which the Galaxy were knocked out of by Seattle in early July.

“Last year’s team had an incredible resilience to just keep going and find a way to get results, and finally at the end of the year we were able to find our way consistently,” Donovan said. “This year is a little different because we played with different expectations … there’s more pressure now, in the expectation that we need to do well.

Not only from the outside but internally.

“We went through that stretch a few weeks ago where we struggled. We were able to look at ourselves in an honest way and say this is not how we play. This is not how we’re going to be successful, and we figured out how to change that and get back to the way we’re supposed to do things.”

Midfielder Chris Birchall, who joined the Galaxy last July 8 after a stint with England’s Brighton and Hove Albion, said chemistry has been exceptional since he arrived.

“We have a real tight unit,” he said. “Most teams say that, but we really do. We get along on and off the pitch. And when you can keep a team virtually the same for the next season, with a few good acquisitions like the Brazilians, it only helps our confidence.

“Everyone felt good at the start of this season and it’s carried on.

We haven’t had any real major blips, but the ones we did we bounced back from and probably will continue to do so.”