Playing on the road this season has been anything but kind to the Los Angeles Galaxy. But unfortunately for Steve Sampson's team, that's exactly where it has to head before potentially coming back home for MLS Cup 2004.
While the Galaxy want nothing more than to play in the championship game in front of their own fans at The Home Depot Center, first there will be the little matter of winning the Western Conference Final at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
Even though the team has confidence in their ability to play well away from home, Sampson knows that the current style of play his team demonstrates on the road just won't cut it this weekend.
"We know K.C. is tough on the road. It's going to take a huge effort on our part to win this match," Sampson said.
The Galaxy seem to play completely differently on the road -- the killer instinct his team demonstrates at the HDC disappears on the road. That is something that Sampson has tried to address and correct this week in training.
"We try to protect our backsides" he said, "which forces our back line to play too deep."
That is a problem for the Galaxy, whose attack functions better when their outside backs get forward into the attack. In the second leg of their Western Conference Semifinal last weekend against the Colorado Rapids, right back Chris Albright was crucially involved in both goals -- credited with an assist on one -- as the Galaxy went through thanks to a 2-0 victory.
On the road this weekend, it will be critical for the back line to get into the attack.
"We're going to have to do the same things there that we do here to get a win," Albright said. "We'd rather be here, but we can go and get a win."
The Galaxy could have been playing at home this weekend. In what was one of the tightest finishes in MLS history, the playoff seeding came down to the last weekend of the season. The Galaxy could have taken the top seed with a win in their last game -- but that game came against the Wizards in Kansas City, and the result was a 1-0 loss.
Team captain and MVP Kevin Hartman knows how important that game was. "We put ourselves in a an awkward situation by not winning the conference," he said. "Now we need to make up for it."
If there ever was a time for the Galaxy to cure their road woes, this is it. They were in a must-win situation last time on the road in Kansas City, and failed to get the result they were after. Now they are in a much more dire situation.
"We don't have a second game if we lose," said center back Tyrone Marshall.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.