Photo by ISIPhotos.com
BY KAYLA KNAPP
CARSON, CA. — The first two meetings this year with the San Jose Earthquakes did not end well for the Los Angeles Galaxy. After going ahead by multiple goals in each game, the Galaxy could not hold off the Earthquakes comeback in either – resulting in two losses to their Northern California rivals.
Now they are in the final stretch of the regular season, and those two losses could have big implications on playoff positioning if the Galaxy cannot get a result in San Jose on Sunday.
As it stands, Los Angeles is three points back from the Seattle Sounders, and six from Real Salt Lake. With two games to go, if the Galaxy want to finish in one of the top three spots in the Western Conference, they will have to win out – and that’s no easy task.
“We just have to get the win,” Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez said after training on Thursday. “We have to go to San Jose, we know it’s going to be a tough battle – it’s going to be a 90-plus minute battle, and you just have to go in there, work hard, get this first one, and then go on to the next.”
Wednesday night’s scoreless draw between RSL and the Galaxy’s final opponent of the season, Seattle, put the reigning MLS Cup champions in the drivers seat heading into the last two matches.
“It puts us in a great position to be in control of our own destiny,” Gonzalez said. “They’re not going to be easy, they’ve against top teams who are in good form, so it’s going to be tough.”
This time around, facing San Jose will be different, because the Galaxy will have Gonzalez in the backline. The center back was recovering from his knee injury for the first two face-offs, but he remembers what happened and knows what the Galaxy needs to do differently this time around.
“What I saw was a dominant performance by us and them sneaking in and getting some goals late,” Gonzalez said of the two losses to the Quakes earlier this year. “Their team is a bunch of fighters, and they don’t give up. I think we made some mistakes in those last two games. We just have to go about it the right way, go about it smart, and not let up on plays where balls go out of bounds, or corner kicks and things like that because that’s where they’re most dangerous.”
Head coach Bruce Arena had a different take on the previous matches against the all-but-clinched Supporters’ Shield winners.
“I’m not at all troubled by those two games at this point in my life,” Arena said after Thursday’s training session. “I’m moving on. I was not happy in the short term with those games, but now I’ve put it past me, I’m looking for greater things in life. I’ve had a grandchild born, we’re in the middle of a heated Presidential election, [the U.S.] lost a difficult Ryder Cup, the Yankees are hanging on for life so really I don’t give two (craps) about the last time that we played San Jose.”
GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE
The Earthquakes started using the Goonies phrase earlier this season, after multiple wins thanks to many late-game goals from Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart. Even when San Jose wasn’t at their best this year, they have always found ways to win.
“They’ve obviously played pretty well, and when they haven’t played well they’ve managed to win, which is the best of both worlds,” Arena said. “There are games that they’ve been a really good team, and games where they haven’t been and still they’ve walked off the field with a result, so a lot of credit to them.”
But their knack for winning even when it is highly improbable is not the only reputation San Jose has made for themselves this season. The Earthquakes are also known to play a very hard and scrappy game.
“You’ve got to be careful,” Gonzalez said of Gordon and Lenhart. “They’re always going in for some crazy kicks, you’ve got to watch out for concussions with those guys. But it’s going to be a great fight and a great battle. [Gordon and Lenhart] are both really nice off the field but on the field, it’s a totally different story. That’s the way you’ve got to be. I think we all just have to get into a mindset of not taking any (crap), and just go from there.”
Lenhart in particular has a bad-boy image in the league, and while Gonzalez said he is a nice guy off the pitch, when asked on Thursday if Lenhart is “the biggest bastard in the league,” the Galaxy defender replied, “One of them, for sure.”
It’s safe to say that Sunday’s match between these two California rivals in the heat of a playoff race is a “can’t miss.”