CARSON, Calif. – Since the start of the season, the Los Angeles Galaxy have been focused on returning to MLS Cup and walking away with the glory that eluded them a year ago.
A critical part of their path towards MLS Cup 2010, however, is unrivaled regular-season success. For the club, that means nabbing the Supporters' Shield title.
As the Galaxy try and get back to their dominant first-half ways, players are focused on not only reaching the playoffs in fine form, but also claiming the league's best record and winning their first Supporters' Shield title since 2002.
"To me, that’s an important thing," Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. "Winning a championship is obviously the most important thing. There’s a lot more respect around the league for the teams that do it from start to finish throughout the year."
Entering July, the Supporters' Shield seemed like a foregone conclusion for Los Angeles. Boasting an 11-1-3 after a July 4 win over Seattle, the Galaxy seemed to have an insurmountable lead in the race for the Shield.
The Galaxy, though, have gone 2-4-2 since, and coupled with strong summers from Columbus, Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas, they have watched their overall lead shrink. On Saturday, Columbus beat D.C. United, and combined with the Galaxy's 1-1 draw at Chicago, the two teams now sit even on 44 points.
"It’s disappointing to let other teams close the gap," Donovan said. "I guess we’re fortunate in that Real Salt Lake and Columbus have other games to play for the last part of the season, but we’re not playing well enough right now to win it."
With their early-season success, though, the Galaxy were seemingly expected to continue playing at a high level while throttling their opponents and running the table.
But sitting atop the league is not necessarily a position LA have been accustomed to.
The Galaxy finished out of the playoffs three consecutive seasons before reaching MLS Cup '09. Even when winning MLS Cup '05, they finished fourth in the Western Conference standings.
"This team for four or five years has not been anywhere near this situation," Donovan said. "Even last year, we ended up finishing well, but we had to fight tooth and nail to get where we got.
"This year, we started really well. … A really mature, experienced team carries it through the whole season. We are having certain doubts because for us, it’s a new experience. For now, we have to find a way to get back on track."
Having built up a lead only made the target on the Galaxy's back even bigger.
"Any athlete will tell you, the easiest part is getting there, because you’re hungry and you have fire," Donovan said. "Once you get to the top, everyone else is shooting for you."