Photo by David Bernal/ISIPhotos.com
BY KAYLA KNAPP
CARSON, Calif., — On Friday morning, the Los Angeles Galaxy will host the Vancouver Whitecaps as they play for their first-ever MLS Reserve League Division title.
With 16 points, the Galaxy sit just one point behind division leaders San Jose, and will claim the title with either a win or draw because of their higher goal differential.
“I’m excited, looking forward to it,” Bryan Gaul said after training on Thursday of Friday’s reserve match. “To win the reserve league, and advance in Champions League, and then hopefully winning the Cup, it’d be a great year to do all three things.”
Not only is this game an important one for the Galaxy reserves, the entire season has been incredibly vital to the success of the club as a whole. The Galaxy’s 2012 season has been a prime example of the usefulness of the reserve league. The year began without center back Omar Gonzalez, and even since his return, a number of injuries has made room for many of the reserve players to step up with the first team.
“It’s a great step for the reserve team, and it’s good because it puts pressure on the first team because we have depth,” Gaul said. “It’s hard to be a reserve and not get games, so with the reserve league you get time, you get experience and stuff that you actually need to put into the first team games. So if you get your chance, you’re ready.”
Gaul has had to step into several roles this season, as has fellow rookie Tommy Meyer. They have helped fill the holes on the defensive line earlier in the year, and used reserve league matches to stay sharp throughout the season. Now with the knee injury suffered by centerback AJ DeLaGarza, once again, the reserves are called upon to step up.
“I’ve been on the bench the whole season, that’s just something you have to be ready for,” Meyer, who filled in for DeLaGarza against Real Salt Lake, said. “AJ’s a great player and I have to be ready to come into a back line that’s been playing together for a couple years. They were together all last year, but it’s easy to come in because those guys are experienced and they’re great players. That makes it easier to step in whenever, and whoever is called upon.”
COPING WITH DE LA GARZA’S INJURY
After DeLaGarza’s knee was injured during the Galaxy’s game against Colorado, it was clear that the back four would need to readjust to whoever took over his spot, and find cohesiveness quickly going into the final stretch. RSL exploited the Galaxy’s defensive weaknesses in their 2-1 win last weekend, but with the international break, there is time to work out the kinks before facing the Earthquakes and Sounders in the final two matches of the regular season.
“We all know injuries are part of the game,” defender Sean Franklin said on Thursday. “Throughout the year, players have stepped in, and it’s all about just getting on the same page as quick as you can. [DeLaGarza’s] going to be out for a little bit, so we’ve got a good two weeks before our next game to really get sharp back there and get familiar with each other.”
It was Meyer who filled in for DeLaGarza against RSL, so he is the likely replacement again for the matches against San Jose and Seattle.
“It just takes time to get to know each other,” Meyer said of the settling in with the back line. “There are little things that you pick up in practice that you can use in the game so you’re ready.”
FINAL TWO MATCHES KEY TO PLAYOFF SEEDING
Heading into the last few weeks of the regular season, Los Angeles will have to focused and sharp in order to get the points they need to secure a high ranking in the Western Conference standings, and avoid the play-in game for the playoffs.
“We want to finish as high as we can, and we know that finishing fourth or fifth, we have that play-in game,” Franklin said. “We don’t want to play an extra game if we don’t have to. We know if we do, we’ll be ready for it. But we want to finish with as many points as we can.”
Getting six points against the Western Conference leaders – and likely Supporters’ Shield winners – followed by a tough Sounders side will definitely be a challenge for the Galaxy.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Franklin said. “We’ve got a tough game in San Jose, we want to get three points there and then we finish off our last game of the year at home against Seattle. So, it doesn’t get any easier from here. We know the task at hand, and I think that our team is up for it.”