BY KAYLA KNAPP
Carson, CALIF. — The Los Angeles Galaxy were paying attention to an important game last night, but it wasn’t one they were playing in. The Puerto Rico Islanders defeated Metapan 3-0 in their CONCACAF Champions League group stage match. This result meant the Galaxy clinched an early spot in the CCL quarterfinals.
“I’m not surprised Puerto Rico won yesterday. We’re the only team in the group that got a point on the road.” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said after training on Friday. “This is the first time around in a three team competition, so it was a little bit different, a little bit odd but we kind of knew the plan was to get six points in the first two games and then get a point in game three you’re in pretty good shape. It turns out that we’re in real good shape because we’ve advanced.”
The Galaxy’s next CCL group stage match against Metapan in El Salvador on Oct. 25th carries a different importance now. With a spot in the quarterfinals already locked up, the Galaxy would do themselves a favor by picking up three points against Metapan and securing a higher seed for the next round.
“We’re satisfied that we’re qualified, but we’re very aware of what the game in El Salvador means now,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said after training Friday. “It comes at a tricky time, the last week of the season, but we have every expectation that we should go in there and win to make sure that we get as high a seed as possible.”
“You don’t want Santos Laguna in the first round, you want to play somebody else,” Mike Magee said on Friday. “We’d like to get three more points in the next game, but obviously we don’t want to risk an MLS Cup trophy for it.”
With the Galaxy already into the next round of the CCL, it is clear where the reigning MLS Cup champions’ focus is now as the regular season comes to an end, and the playoffs are rapidly approaching.
Roster depth of utmost importance during this stretch
The Galaxy close out the MLS regular season with a tough four game stretch – they face Colorado Rapids, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders to close out the season. One of the most important aspects of this Galaxy team in 2012 has been the depth of their squad, and fully taking advantage of that with MLS and CCL matches to play in a grueling schedule.
“It takes so much pressure off us having clinched last night, and having so much depth within our team knowing that we can play guys that aren’t necessarily regulars and count on getting a result,” Magee said of the CCL match against Metapan at the end of the month.
“We’re very fortunate that we can play a team like that with a “second” group of players and get results we want, so if that’s the choice Bruce makes those guys are very competent and they can get the job done,” Donovan added.
Especially considering some of the injuries the Galaxy have faced this season, the ability to send a squad of mostly reserves players to CCL matches and still get points is incredibly important.
Looking ahead to facing the Rapids in Colorado
The Rapids are notoriously difficult to play at home, especially because of the ever-present issue of altitude for visiting teams to adjust to. Especially so for players like Beckham who is still on the mend from injury. He expects to play Sunday, but for how long is unclear.
“It’s always difficult being out for a few weeks and coming back, but I’ve had a good week of training and should be OK for this weekend,” David Beckham said after Friday’s training session. “You have to build it up again, but I’ll judge how I feel during the game and see what Bruce thinks, and obviously what the physios think, so hopefully I can play 90. But, it’s altitude, the first game back after three and a half weeks, so I hope I can do it.”
Christian Wilhelmsson was absent from training on Friday, having last trained with the team on Wednesday. Arena said he should be set to go for Sunday, but if not, there are plenty of guys on the roster who can step up and fill that spot.
The Galaxy kick off the final stretch of the season against a Rapids team that has struggled overall, but is always tough at home.
“You have to get those quick run ins and get yourself going straight away, get your lungs adjusted as quick as possible,” Beckham said of the Colorado altitude. “It is what it is, just one of those things that we have to cope with.”
And just because Colorado, on paper at least, is the weakest of the Galaxy’s final four opponents this season, doesn’t mean they are taking Sunday’s game lightly.
“This is an important game, we’re treating it as such ,” Donovan said. “It’s a game where we need to get three points if we want to keep pace in the West.”