The Los Angeles Galaxy wouldn't come right out and say it, but there's little doubt: If they are to gain any sort of home-field advantage for the MLS Cup Playoffs, they have to defeat the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night at The Home Depot Center.
"Colorado is playing some of the best soccer in the league. It's a six-point game." said Galaxy captain Pete Vagenas. "I'm not going to say it's a 'must-win', but it's very important."
Nothing is settled for certain yet in the Western Conference - neither of the two expansion teams have yet been mathematically eliminated from contention. But it is still pretty safe to say that the four playoff teams from the West have been set, though there is still a fair number of games ahead before the final standing will be decided.
The Galaxy currently hold a slim four-point lead on the Rapids. So far on the season, the two teams have split the series, with both sides winning at home, and the clubs each have just six matches left in the league campaign.
"It's a must-win if we have any expectation of catching San Jose, which is getting more and more difficult every day," said Galaxy head coach Steve Sampson. "If we want to surpass Dallas, and make sure at least in the first round of playoffs we have home-field advantage, then every game is very important."
One thing the Galaxy can look forward to is the return of both Landon Donovan and Chris Albright to the team, after time away with the U.S. national Team. With the United States having already booked their trip to the World Cup in Germany next summer, Donovan has just one thing on his mind - his club.
"It's my only focus, I don't have anything else to worry about. I can't make excuses. I'm not going to be tired. I'm not going to be traveling as much. Now it's time to show up," he said.
In the first meeting between the teams at The Home Depot Center, Donovan buried two penalty kicks in the waning moments of the game to give the Galaxy a 3-2 win in what was one of the wildest finishes in MLS history, as Colorado striker Jeff Cunningham had a penalty of his own sandwiched between Donovan's two attempts. While Donovan doesn't expect to get two more goals from the spot this game, he will take a win however it might come.
"We're kind of at a point where it doesn't matter what happens or how it happens, we need to win games. We have all the training time we need now," Donovan said. "We have no excuses, nothing else to do but play. We've got to show that we belong."
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.