If there is one key for the Los Angeles Galaxy as they head to Denver for the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal against the Colorado Rapids, it's getting their attack back on track and finding a way past one of the top defenses in the league.
In their last five league games, the Galaxy have only managed to score three goals, and have been shut out in three of those games. That's not the sort of form that could inspire tremendous confidence going into a game against a club that allowed barely a goal per game.
Now that it's playoff time, the job of scoring goals only gets tougher too. "Instead of putting the ball a little behind a guy or towards a guy, you have to hit him right in his stride to give him the best chance to finish," said midfielder Sasha Victorine, who will counted upon to provide that service from the left side of midfield.
The midfield will have to be a launching pad for the Galaxy attack, and Galaxy coach Steve Sampson is looking for his team to strike quickly and win the ball in the middle third of the field. "When we move the ball quickly we can expose even the best defenses in this league," Sampson said.
Since coming to the club for the final eight games of the 2004 MLS season, Sampson has tried to instill on his charges a philosophy of attacking their opponents and keeping them on their heels, so they don't have to defend. But as Sampson has admitted, at times that has been easier said that done.
"The key for us is being able to move the all from one side to the other," said Victorine. "If we can do that I think we'll have success against them."
But also, in part, the lackluster attack can be attributed to a hamstring injury to star forward Carlos Ruiz. But for this weekend's match, Ruiz is as close to 100 percent healthy than he has been in a long time.
And in his absence some of the younger players on the Galaxy have earned valuable game experience. One of those players is rookie Alan Gordon, who made his first and second career starts in the last two weeks of the season.
"When you work hard, when you train hard, you're going to get an opportunity," said Sampson. "The time he's gotten in the last two matches will bode well for us in the playoffs."
Jovan Kirovski will definitely be one of the starters up top for Sampson. But he plays more as a withdrawn forward, where he is more dangerous creating opportunities for other players in the run of play. His goal scoring ability is most apparent on free kicks, as he showed against Dallas a few weeks back when he struck a brilliant ball from just outside the box for his second goal of the game.
Ruiz is almost certain to play if his hamstring injury heals accordingly, but cold conditions likely to be found in Colorado in late October are not necessarily conducive to keeping an already strained hamstring loose. "If he's 100 percent, he'll play," said Sampson.
But regardless of whether it's Kirovski and Ruiz -- or Gordon, or the flashy Joseph Ngwenya -- Sampson has called out his strikers heading into the Rapids series.
"It's time for the guys who are being paid to score goals to step up and start scoring goals," he said.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.