Bruce Arena in media conference call: "anything goes" in "challenging" MLS Cup Playoff slate

CARSON, Calif. -- LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena spoke with local and national media on a conference call on Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Western Conference Semifinal first leg against Real Salt Lake.

Arena’s comments are below…

(On the development of Omar Gonzalez…)

ARENA: “He’s had a solid year with a few injuries. I think that the national team call-ups have been challenging for him. It’s hurt his contiguity with our team and as well as with the national team. Those are things that happen with young players in their initial outings with trying to balance their club careers and international careers. It’s been challenging for Omar, but I think that as of late, he’s gotten his feet on the ground and is ready to go. He’s a great person, but it’s challenging for anyone and he’s gone through experiences throughout the year and now that we’re at the end of the year, he’s settled in. He’s using the experiences to get better as a player and as a person.”

(On the differences of the Galaxy since August…)

ARENA:  “We’re a little bit more consistent on both ends of the field. We were fairly erratic in the first half of the season and solidified ourselves on both ends. Part of the reason is our performance, which has not been as consistent as I’d like, is that we've just had a difficult time this year getting our whole group together for any extended period of time. As of late, we've been able to do that with a little more consistency and it’s obviously helped us.

(On the influence of [Gyasi] Zardes and [Jaime] Penedo…)

ARENA: If we were going to play Landon and Robbie as forwards, we had to make the decision of what to do with Gyasi, so we made the decision to play him in midfield. That was big for our team. Penedo has come in and given us more consistency in goal. He’s capable of making big saves in games to preserve game. A.J. [DeLaGarza]’s injury has been unfortunate, but I think that the moves have helped us. As well as the fact that we've had Robbie and Landon together as strikers, but during the playoffs, I’d imagine that we’ll move that around as well.”

(On Real Salt Lake…)

ARENA: As usual they have a very good team and I think that they’re solid on every end of the field. Nick Rimando has been an outstanding goalkeeper for them this season as he has been for the last five, six, seven years. [Alvaro] Saborío is an excellent goal scorer for them up front. The midfield of [Javier] Morales, [Kyle] Beckerman, [Ned] Grabavoy, and [Luis] Gil is outstanding. The return of [Chris] Schuler helps them in the back; [Nat] Borchers is an excellent leader for them in the back as is [Chris] Wingert. They’ve got a nice team and an experienced team. It’s a team that is very talented.”

(On how important it is to figure things out before the playoffs and get through...)

ARENA: The little that I understand with this thing is that you can’t win the MLS Cup unless you’re in the tournament, so that’s half the battle to start. This year was very competitive from start to finish in the league as we know. It’s challenging and I don’t know if anyone has the formula for success. It’s going to be very competitive. I like the home-at-home leg that we have; it’s something new over the last couple of years. The schedule is very awkward, the play-in game could take its toll on some teams because they’re going to be a number of games over a period for those teams as well. Every step of the way, it’s going to be challenging and this is new territory for everybody. There are a lot of games that are coming quick and the teams that are successful and reach the conference final will have to deal with a long layoff between the first and second legs of the conference final and the MLS Cup final. There are a lot of challenges ahead. It’s uncharted waters for everyone so it will be interesting to see how everyone comes out of it. It’ll be interesting and challenging for sure.”

(On the impact of the international break scheduled in the middle of the postseason...)

ARENA: “It makes it more crowded and more open. I think that it’s going to be real difficult for the teams and the team coming out of the semifinals not knowing where they’re headed for the next game and waiting for teams to prevail. It’s going to be difficult and recovery time is very difficult in this schedule. It’s going to be interesting. I don’t think anyone knows how it is going to play out.”

(On the measure of success of the first leg…)

ARENA: “I don’t think that we know the formula for success, but one would think that it would be to start the competition with a win, having said that, we didn't do that last year [in the Conference Semifinals] with the San Jose Earthquakes. Anything goes. It’s a 180 minute plus competition right now and if you prevail in the first 90, it doesn't mean that you’re going to come out on top after 180 plus minutes. Every step of the way is going to be challenging and it’s important that you get off in good form in the first 90 minutes. However, we know from experience that it is not all said and done after 90 minutes.”

(On the tactical flexibility that his team has…)

ARENA:  “We’re playing two games in [five days] and if we prevail than it is three games in seven or eight days then it gets a lot more difficult. That’s where there could be changes.  And the play-in teams, that’s where it can be really difficult. In the beginning, I don’t think that anything is different, but as you move on and you have a lot of games with a lot of travel, it’ll be challenging. We’ll have to see players and how they’re doing and make decisions based on that.”