CARSON, Calif. – Had things worked out differently, the Los Angeles Galaxy would be opening their participation in the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League group stage.
Instead, the Home Depot Center will be quiet.
While the club is no longer in contention for the tournament title, there is a bright side to having been eliminated from the Champions League: a potentially loaded schedule instead gives way to a manageable calendar.
“It’s strange,” Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said. “Our schedule suddenly went from crazy-hectic to pretty good. Now we have one game a week from here on out. We’ve played as many games as any team in the league. It’s going to set up well. I think we only have four more road trips. The league is definitely our focus now."
Because the Galaxy had qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round, the club’s calendar from mid-August through the end of the season was left open in the middle of the week in case the Galaxy reached the regional championship tournament. The Puerto Rico Islanders had other ideas, though, and beat LA by a 5-3 aggregate score to reach the group stage.
“That’s definitely a plus,” Dunivant said. “Same thing with the Open Cup [from which LA were eliminated by Seattle]. You want to win those competitions, you want to do well, but when you’re out, that’s definitely less games. Especially the Champions [League]; that’s six games that would have been jammed into the second half of our year.
“No question about it, we wanted to be there, but when you’re out, you look at the bright side and say, ‘Our schedule is a lot more favorable.’”
The Galaxy had a bit of a rarity a week ago. For just the second time in the last seven weeks, LA didn't have a midweek game. Perhaps not coincidentally, the club looked sharp and returned to form, picking up a shutout for the first time since June 26 in a 1-0 win at New York.
“With all the games we had, it was good to end with a win on the road,” Galaxy forward Edson Buddle said after the match. “Now things will return to normal with one game a week. Hopefully we can settle in and get back in a rhythm.”
The Galaxy can now focus on a more regular routine: four days of training during the week followed by a match on the weekend.
“We’ve been a little bit inconsistent lately, so going on the road and getting three points was massive not only our league status but the mentality of the group,” Galaxy assistant coach Dave Sarachan said. “We don’t have a midweek game for a while, so now we can regroup, take a little rest and get ready for the weekend.”
Four MLS clubs will participate in the CONCACAF Champions League tournament and all will be in action this week. Columbus, Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC will all open their respective participations at home while the Seattle Sounders will visit Marathón in Honduras. The quartet of clubs will have to deal with six extra matches spread out over Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
The Galaxy won’t have the Champions League title to contend for, but now set their sights on winning the Supporters’ Shield. With both Real Salt Lake and Columbus in the Champions League, the Galaxy could rediscover their early-season form while RSL and the Crew deal with international fixtures.
“[The Supporters’ Shield] is in our sights,” Dunivant said. “We’ve kind of been in first all year and we don’t want to relinquish that. Now you look at other teams that will have those [Champions League] games – that should be an advantage for us.”