CARSON, Calif. – Incentive or curse? That’s still up for debate.
By most indications, the LA Galaxy would appear to be in a favorable position. After all, MLS Cup is scheduled to be played at The Home Depot Center, but head coach Bruce Arena admitted that the title game’s location wasn’t exactly a carrot dangling in front of his team.
“It wasn’t the most comfortable feeling knowing we were going to host the final and go through this season,” Arena said.
The Galaxy, however, managed to do what only two other teams in MLS history have accomplished by reaching a MLS Cup final scheduled for their own grounds. LA will host the Houston Dynamo in MLS Cup 2011 on Nov. 20, following only D.C. United (1997) and New England (2002) as MLS Cup hosts and participants.
And with players constantly circling back to discuss the ever-present pressure placed on them, it’s clear that reaching the title game at home this season was an absolute necessity.
“I must tell you there was a little bit of pressure on us to get there, which is kind of a remarkable feat by this group,” Arena said.
Perhaps Arena did well then, to deflect the pressure away from players and downplay the need to reach MLS Cup this season. His players said the game was a bit of a reward for having done things right in 2011.
“It’s special,” Galaxy midfielder David Beckham said. “When it was announced that the MLS Cup final would be at The Home Depot Center, I said that it would be great if we could make it. And now that we've made it, we want to win it. It's as simple as that.”
Historically, though, the Galaxy have always had high expectations.
The club reached the first-ever MLS Cup and participated in four of the first seven title games, finally winning one in their fourth trip with a 1-0 victory against the Revolution in 2002 at Gillette Stadium. They won a second title in 2005 with another 1-0 result against New England at Pizza Hut Park.
Following a three-year skid, they returned to MLS Cup in 2009 and are back again this season for their seventh MLS Cup appearance.
After falling short of their goals in 2010, reaching the final on home turf was just another necessary and expected step for LA to take this year, which forced players to confront those expectations head on.
“This team, the way it’s built and the support we get from our ownership, you’re always going to have pressure to win,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. “It’s unlike any other team in our league. We accept that, and we have guys here who can handle that stuff. It makes it really rewarding when you do well.”
And although the Galaxy have booked their place in MLS Cup, the pressure on the squad hasn’t relented. Instead, it’s been ramped up quite a bit.
“[There is] more pressure every game,” midfielder Mike Magee said. “We obviously set a goal to win MLS Cup, and it’s been three years running now. There’s a lot of pressure on this next game.”