As Bruce Arena lamented under heavy breath during yesterday’s post-game presser, the regular season is one long year.
The MLS Cup playoffs are no different. Taking home the cup is another grueling adventure, and yet the winning formula isn’t rocket science: As a team, you need to be in form, you need circumstances to go your way, and a little bit of luck.
Despite the last few results, LA arguably have momentum heading into Wednesday’s knockout round vs. Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center.
Inserting AJ DeLaGarza into the lineup alongside Jelle Van Damme has stabilized the Galaxy defense: LA have only conceded once in the last three matches. (Bruce was coy about whether DeLaGarza or Daniel Steres would get the nod on Wednesday, but AJ simply matches up better against the likes of Burrito Martinez and the 5’ 3” Joao Plata.)
Though the news on Sunday was focused on Bruce resting Designated Players Giovani dos Santos, Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, the real X-factor for LA could potentially be Sebastian Lletget. Before the FC Dallas debacle, the former West Ham academy product bagged four assists in five games starting in central midfield, and the Galaxy were more dangerous in the attack, putting away 13 goals.
With the ability to win the ball as well as provide quality service, Da’ Boy adds bite and purpose to the offense. He’s also unpredictable: Lletget is new to the position in MLS and has been deployed in both 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 formations, so teams are unable to fully game plan against the young attacker. Stick Lletget in the center of midfield and anything can happen.
It also needs to be said: Although it is well-documented Keane and dos Santos have struggled playing together, do not underestimate the motivation of a pissed-off Robbie Keane who is basically playing for a new contract.
Losing Gyasi Zardes was obviously a huge blow for LA, but the return of Landon Donovan has reinvigorated the club. On the field, Donovan’s soccer IQ has come in handy, breathing life into an attack adrift of ideas in the final third. Off-the-field, Donovan’s veteran presence has brought a renewed focus to the locker room. The first player to speak with the media post-game, the 34-year-old is still a leader and eager to get things right.
If the Galaxy can manage to get past a struggling Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, who’s to stop them from making a run? The Sounders’ impressive comeback to make the playoffs should be applauded, but Seattle are relying on two players in Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris to provide goals. Sporting Kansas City is aging and banged up. You’d have to be a fool to not respect the Rapids after they nearly captured the Supporters’ Shield, but I doubt LA fear Colorado.
And the one team the Galaxy probably do fear just lost their star playmaker in Mauro Diaz. FC Dallas can get by switching to a 4-4-2, but they aren’t the same.
Get to MLS Cup, and anything can happen.