CARSON, Calif. – Leave it to LA Galaxy midfielder Marcelo Sarvas to describe the emotions and the context heading into the team’s second leg of the Western Conference Semifinal Series at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday.
“It’s a final,” the Galaxy’s Brazilian midfielder asserted following the team’s 1-0 victory over RSL. “From now on every game is a final ... We’re all in the mindset that we can go there [to Rio Tinto Stadium] with more motivation to play in this game. We know that they we can go there and do a good job and qualify for the next round.”
For LA’s season to continue, the Galaxy must correct an issue that has confounded them throughout the season: their inconsistent road form. In 2013, the Galaxy were just 4-9-4 away from home, but the mark is truncated to a 3-9-4 mark when subtracting their 1-0 victory over Chivas USA in the road leg of the SuperClasico at StubHub Center on June 23.
However, one of those three victories away from the confines of Carson came at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 27. On that night, an understrength Galaxy squad shocked RSL to earn a 2-0 victory, which was the first of two shutouts netted away from Southern California this season. Although a majority of the squad that picked up the win is unlikely to start on Thursday, the Galaxy can use the match as a blueprint of sorts for the team’s second leg.
In that win, Mike Magee and Charlie Rugg tallied a pair of goals for the Galaxy inside the opening 13 minutes. With their lead in hand, LA soon found themselves under constant pressure by a relentless RSL attack that desperately threw numbers forward. However, the Galaxy’s defense and most notably goalkeeper Brian Rowe, who made a season-high eight saves, kept RSL off the board to preserve the victory. Up a goal on aggregate and needing either a win or a draw to go through to the Western Conference Championship, LA can expect to be in a similar situation on Thursday as Salt Lake will press the team’s defense in hopes of finding the series-tying goal.
“[That game is] how I picture Thursday will be because they’re going to dump numbers in the box and use their big guys to get on frame,” said defender A.J. DeLaGarza who reminisced about the ‘fight and will’ shown in April. “They’re going to throw everything forward and they have nothing to lose, but we have to go in like that as well. We need to play smart and play in their end of the field when we have to and make them come through our whole team and not turn over the ball over and invite counter attacks.
“On Sunday, we had many counter attacks, but I don’t think that Robbie [Keane] and Landon [Donovan] will ever miss that many chances again,” DeLaGarza added. “It’s a positive how many chances that they did get, but I think that they’ll finish a few of those on Thursday.”
Finishing chances is something that has befuddled the Galaxy away from StubHub Center this season as they’ve tallied just 38 percent of their goals away from home (20 of 53) while being shut out five times. Even though LA have had their difficulties scoring on the road, with a desperate RSL attack looking to pin them down in their own end of the field, the Galaxy expect to find gaps for their lethal transition game.
“[RSL] don’t have a choice, they need to press us all the time,” said Juninho. “[LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena] told us that for sure, they’ll open space because they’ll open up and press us. There will be gaps so let’s enjoy these gaps and score goals.”
Ultimately, the Galaxy will need to apply the lessons of April’s victory and playoff games past or risk seeing their quest for a third consecutive MLS Cup title end at the base of the Wasatch Mountains.
“This game can be the last game of the season, so it’s 100 percent or nothing,” said Juninho. “Our team is confident. We know how to play in playoff games. We’re experienced in these games.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com