CARSON, Calif. – Having claimed the Supporters’ Shield with a lofty 59 points during the regular season, the Los Angeles Galaxy are right where that accomplishment would indicate: on the brink of MLS Cup.
Still, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena does not peg his team as the favorites to reach anything. In the first round of the 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs, the Galaxy were the only higher seed to advance to a conference final.
“I don’t know whether we’d be the favorite in the west or the east right now,” Arena said on Sunday after LA eliminated Seattle. “None of these games have favorites right now. The home field hasn’t held up that well. These games are hard to play in as evidenced by this past week.”
The Eastern Conference top-seeded New York Red Bulls started their conference semifinal second-leg soiree by allowing the San Jose Earthquakes a goal within six minutes. The Quakes went on to win 3-1 at Red Bull Arena and take the series 3-2 on aggregate.
[inline_node:322293]The Columbus Crew beat the Colorado Rapids but, at 2-1, it was not enough to win the series outright. The match ended in penalty kicks and the Crew’s Brian Carroll sent the final kick well over the crossbar to give the Rapids the surprise series victory.
Real Salt Lake needed a victory over FC Dallas Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium but only managed to eke out a 1-1 draw, and the defending MLS Cup champions crashed out on a 3-2 aggregate.
“We were very aware of the fact that all the other top seeds lost,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. “We didn’t want that to happen.”
Still, Donovan said the lower-seeded teams advanced by their own merits, not because the higher seeds collapsed.
“All those teams are playing the best in the league right now and that’s why they’re there,” Donovan said. “We all said Colorado was playing as good as anybody going into it, San Jose has something about them that’s working right now and certainly Dallas beating, in my opinion, the second-best team in the league in a two-game series says a lot about them.”
Of the remaining quartet, the Galaxy easily have the best record. The Galaxy finished nine points clear of FC Dallas and 13 points ahead of both Colorado and San Jose.
So does that make the Galaxy favorites?
“If there are any favorites, none of them are around from the favorites I heard about, so I guess there aren’t any favorites,” Arena said.
Home Field Hang-ups
Of the eight games played thus far in the MLS Cup Playoffs, home teams have not fared well. Overall, home teams are 4-3-1. But one of those wins is Columbus’ 2-1 win over Colorado, a victory in name only and as Pyrrhic as they come.
“Who knows? This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” Arena said when asked of MLS playoff teams' home struggles. “You always think if it’s an advantage to play the first game, second game – who knows? All I know is that Dallas had a terrific performance against Salt Lake, San Jose against New York, and Colorado had a great effort to come back and get that goal against Columbus. Those teams did play well. Why the home field didn’t hold as well as people would have thought, who knows? I can never figure out any of this stuff.”
However, Arena was certain about two things.
“I’m going to make this bold prediction to counter some of the predictions I’ve heard through the media,” Arena said. “I think a team from the West is going to win MLS Cup this year, and not only that they’re going to win the Western Conference as well as the Eastern Conference.”
The Galaxy host FC Dallas while Colorado host San Jose in this weekend’s conference finals. All four teams hail from the Western Conference.
[inline_node:322904]Lewis Left Out Left
Eddie Lewis was in the starting lineup for the 2010 season opener against the New England Revolution. An injury cut short his time on the field as he left before halftime.
Lewis, who will retire at the end of the season, went on to start two US Open Cup games and a CONCACAF Champions League match, but never regained his starting spot in regular-season play.
However, an injury to Todd Dunivant opened the door for his return in the playoffs. Lewis was up to the task. He did well at left back in the Galaxy’s 1-0 win at Seattle in the first leg of their playoff series. With Dunivant healthy and available for the second leg, Arena stuck with the veteran as Dunivant watched from the bench.
“Eddie played well last week," Arena said. "He was pretty rested. Todd didn’t get into practice until about Thursday. We felt Eddie was a little fitter, a little more prepared to play in this game.”
Buddle’s Brilliance Carries Over
Edson Buddle was second in the league in goals with a career-high 17 this season. He was named the Galaxy’s Most Valuable Player and is a finalist for league MVP honors as well.
In two playoff games, he has shown why he’s been deserving of the individual accolades. Buddle scored two of the Galaxy’s three goals against Seattle and helped the Galaxy reach the Western Conference Final for the second consecutive season.
“This season has been going well with scoring goals,” he said. “Our team is getting me the ball in the right positions so it makes my job a lot easier.”
His first goal was a wonder-strike, a volley from seemingly out of nowhere at Qwest Field that sailed over Kasey Keller’s head and into the back of the net. His goal on Sunday was more traditional – he powered home a header off a corner kick. That he was pushed and shoved was nothing new.
“This time in the playoffs, things are going to be tight,” he said. “I expect that but I was still able to get good contact on it. That’s why I found the net.”