CARSON, Calif. – A four-game unbeaten streak and three straight wins in all competitions is no reason to hold any kind of worthwhile celebration, but it is more than enough to leave the LA Galaxy suddenly feeling good about themselves.
The two-time defending MLS Cup champions are coming off a pair of impressive league wins, 4-2 over MLS-leading Real Salt Lake and 1-0 at Vancouver, that improved their position in what continues to be a wild, wild West. The Galaxy are in second place just five points behind Real Salt Lake with a game in hand.
If you count a 2-0 victory over Costa Rican side Cartagines in a group stage game of the CONCACAF Champions League and a 3-3 tie against FC Dallas, the Galaxy haven’t lost in an official competition since a 2-0 defeat to Colorado at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park a month ago.
“We have to keep this going until the end of the season,” Galaxy midfielder Hector Jimenez said.
What has made the difference? Some may point out the addition of goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, who has started in each of the club’s last three games, conceding just two goals and keeping a pair of clean sheets. The latest of those wins came on Saturday night in Vancouver when Penedo made what arguably was the save of the year, stopping the Whitecaps’ Jordan Harvey with a magnificent, one-handed save in the 82nd minute.
Others may point to the return of Leonardo and his size in central defense and the way that has solidified the defense, especially on set pieces.
“We’ve been patiently waiting for Leo to get healthy over the last couple of years,” head coach Bruce Arena said, referring to the career-threatening knee injury Leonardo suffered more than two years ago. “We’ve given him an opportunity to get a number of games in and establish a rhythm and it’s been good.
“We have a number of candidates now that can play center back which I think is going to be important down the stretch.”
There also has been the play of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, who have played just 10 games together but have a chemistry that has resulted in some stunning goals of late.
Others say the team simply is playing smarter, especially when it’s been ahead early.
“Of course, we had some examples like Salt Lake where we were down and came back,” midfielder Marcelo Sarvas said. “Normally in this league when you score first you can manage the game much better. I think this is the key.
“The last game we scored at the beginning and we have players with enough experience to manage games like that.”
Added defender Todd Dunivant, “I think it’s just been a progression. I think we’ve been playing well for the last couple of months, to be honest, and now we’re finally putting the pieces together. We still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but I think we’ve been building toward this.
“Even when we were dropping points and not getting results we were still playing really well and I think outplaying teams and I think we felt good about ourselves. It was a quiet confidence that’s always been there and we continued to progress. We’ve tightened things up and the results are showing.”