CARSON, Calif. – On Sunday night at The Home Depot Center, Real Salt Lake became the latest in a long line of worthy opponents to fall at the hands of the LA Galaxy. But with 48 games already played across MLS, the US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League, it may be that LA’s worthiest opponent this season has been their schedule.
The Galaxy play their 49th contest of 2011 – MLS Cup – on Nov. 20 against the Houston Dynamo. Which means that, finally, they will get some respite.
“If any team needs the two weeks off, it’s our team,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said on Sunday. “Hopefully we can get our group ready for the final.”
LA’s regular season kicked off on March 15 against the Seattle Sounders, but the action began nearly two weeks earlier in a friendly against Mexican side Club Tijuana. And what would be typical of the season to come, starting goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts came out of the match with injury and missed the next three games.
“We’re starting to get our team back,” Arena said. “We’ve played a whole season without our first 11, which is kind of remarkable and now this week was great to get a bunch of guys on the field together for literally the first time this year. … Hopefully we’re growing from this experience and hopefully we can be better come Nov. 20.”
The Galaxy came away unscathed from the team’s most-recent grueling stretch. Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan each returned after having played sparingly in October and did well in helping LA win three consecutive MLS Cup Playoffs matches – two against New York and Sunday’s win over Real Salt Lake.
The only players who seemingly won’t have a chance to be available for MLS Cup are center backs Leonardo and Sean Alvarado, both of whom suffered season-ending knee injuries early in the year.
“We were all not suffering a little bit, but finding it hard to play these two games so close to each other,” Galaxy midfielder David Beckham said. “We knew that if we got through [Sunday], we'd have a couple of weeks break, so we got through and now we'll enjoy a couple of days off and get straight to it.”
Time off will help players recover and may allow the team to settle into a rhythm earlier in the match come the final.
“It’s huge,” Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee said on Sunday after the win over RSL. “Even tonight, I wasn’t really happy with my first half because my body wasn’t feeling its normal self. I think it took me a while to get in the game as well as a couple of the other guys because of all the games and lack of days off. It will be nice to get a couple of days off here this week.”
LA’s hectic season has seen them reach the CCL quarterfinals, earn a second-straight Supporters’ Shield and advance to within one game of a first MLS Cup since 2005. Now that the schedule has slowed down, though, the question now becomes: What exactly will the Galaxy do with all their time off?
“I’m sure it will feel like months before the final,” Magee said.
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.