CARSON, Calif. -- It’s come down to this for the LA Galaxy: a victory Saturday against the Colorado Rapids at The Home Depot Center and the coveted Supporters’ Shield is theirs.
The best record in MLS could be wrapped up with a win and home field advantage throughout the upcoming playoffs would be a certainty.
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena agreed the Galaxy are in an enviable position with just two games remaining in the regular season, but he isn’t jumping to conclusions.
“Let’s be fair, it could go down to the end,” he said after training Monday. “We can control our destiny with a win. If we win, it’s done.
"If there’s a draw, it’s a possibility given some other results. I think it’s important we’d like to have that … it obviously qualifies us automatically for group play in the (CONCACAF) Champions League, which is important.
“If you look around this league, there’s not a whole lot of difference from top to bottom. After 30 games, if you’re the team that comes out on top I think that’s pretty good.”
The Galaxy are currently in first place in the Western Conference with a 17-6-5 record and 56 points. Second place Real Salt Lake is 14-4-10 with 52 points while FC Dallas is 12-2-14 for 50 points. The New York Red Bulls top the Eastern Conference with a 14-8-6 record and 48 points.
The best Real Salt Lake could do is finish with 58 points and FC Dallas can do no better than 56 points. In addition, Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas faceoff this Saturday and as a result only one of them will be able to reach their maximum point total. Meanwhile, New York can get no more than 54. A Galaxy victory on Saturday would give them 59 points and clinch the best record outright.
Arena said he has been proud of his team’s resiliency, especially through lengthy World Cup player call-ups (Edson Buddle and Landon Donovan), injury losses (David Beckham and Gregg Berhalter, in particular) and a mid-season slump.
And to those detractors who continue to criticize his club, so be it.
“I’m constantly amazed at the sense of people feeling we haven’t accomplished anything,” he said. “We’re at 56 points now, we had 48 last year. We have 22 goals against, we had 31 last year. We have 41 goals now, we had 36 last year. Has it been perfect? No. But come on, it ain’t that bad.
“In all honesty, I think we’ve done fine. We’ve had a sluggish period … we’re still not out of it but we’ve won four out of our last five games. I’m not sure there are too many teams in this league that have won four out of five games and gotten 12 out of 15 points at any time.
“Are we playing as well as we would like? No. It’s been a very awkward year with injuries, suspensions, personal matters, the World Cup … it’s been awkward from start to finish. It’s been much more difficult this year than last year with regards to that. At the end to be able to say you came out on top, that would be fabulous.”
Second year central defender Omar Gonzalez, the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year, said the turning point may have been a CONCACAF Champions League preliminary game in Puerto Rico on Aug. 4. The Galaxy, which had lost 4-1 in the first game of the home-and-home series a week earlier, won the rematch 2-1.
“We were away for four days, and there was great team bonding,” Gonzalez said. “That game really showed a lot of heart, and ever since then we’ve been on the up and up.
“To win the Supporters’ Shield would be pretty amazing. The fact we’d have home field advantage throughout the playoffs would be a great morale boost going into the playoffs.”
Said defender Sean Franklin on clinching the league’s best record, “It would be very special. That was one of our goals this year. We’re sitting in a good spot right now, and we have a chance to clinch it at home.
“There’s not a better place to win it.”