Seems like old times: As second half of season starts, LA Galaxy rounding into form

CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy head to Portland knowing that a victory Saturday night (11 pm ET, NBC Sports Network/LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com), coupled with an FC Dallas home triumph over Real Salt Lake, will leave them within one point off the Western Conference lead and the top spot in the Supporters' Shield standings.

That's quite a leap in a matter of days, from a double-digit deficit heading into their Fourth of July victory over Columbus to within four points after last weekend's win against FC Dallas, and it can't help but have LA considering the what-ifs.

The Galaxy (9-7-3), who sit third in the West, have conceded nine MLS points while giving up decisive goals in the final 15 minutes of games, and they've lost twice -- at New York and San Jose -- on stoppage-time strikes.

“I know, it's crazy,” winger Robbie Rogers said. “I was thinking back to, like, the San Jose game, or other games when I wasn't part of the team, that I heard about. That's soccer, though. That's MLS. ... I think [the failures] builds some character, and hopefully down the line we won't regret those.”

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If games were, say, 83 minutes long, the Galaxy (9-7-3) would pick up two wins and three draws, drop the point it picked up in a draw at Toronto FC, and sit atop the league standings at 11-4-4.

“No season's going to be perfect,” defender Omar Gonzalez said. “I think what happened to us the first part of the season was just learning and understanding what works and what doesn't work. ... For as bad as we say we've done, we're four points back -- I think we're in a really good position, and the second half of the season is when you've got to get things right, and this is the right time to start clicking and make a push.”

The Galaxy have dominated their last three opponents, but lost to San Jose after surrendering two goals in stoppage and needed a stoppage-time penalty kick to beat Columbus. They take on the Timbers (7-2-9), who are even with LA on points, looking for three successive victories for the first time this year.

“When you're coming off two wins in a row, the chest fills out a little bit, there's a little more of a swagger, there's a little more confidence,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan said. “We know what the points look like. We're not ignorant of that. We know what's coming up. We've always believed we've got quality, so we knew that a run could get started. We hope it continues.”

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The Galaxy play their next eight and 13 of their remaining 15 MLS games against Western opposition.

“There's a lot of games ahead,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “Hopefully, we can position ourselves first of all to make the playoffs and second of all to challenge in the conference for the first spot. But there's a lot of soccer ahead, and we need to be patient and grow along the way. Hopefully, we're doing this at the right time.”

A loss on Saturday, and the Galaxy could find themselves seven points back. A win would help in their bid for a third Supporters' Shield in four years.

“It's very tight [in the standings], and I think it's going to be tight [down the stretch],” defender Todd Dunivant said. “Obviously, top three [in the playoffs, avoiding the wild-card round] is our ultimate goal. We'd love to be the Supporters' Shield, anyone would, but that's not what we're talking about. We want to keep moving up the table, keep getting points, and we'll talk about that stuff once we get down to the last few games of the season.”