In 2011, the LA Galaxy have faced a slew of different competitions, from the MLS regular season to the CONCACAF Champions League, and have done so with considerable success.
Now, the club will enter yet another competition and will look to keep up their form.
The Galaxy open the MLS Cup Playoffs Sunday against the New York Red Bulls (3 pm ET, ESPN2/Deportes, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) in what the club is approaching as an altogether separate entity from anything else the team has competed in this year.
“They are two separate competitions,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said Friday in a conference call. “They’re unique in themselves and one has nothing to do with the other. … The playoffs [are] a couple of games over a short period of time and anything can happen. The Supporters’ Shield is a competition over the entire season, 34 games this year. You need to look at it as two completely different competitions, and that’s what we have to do.”
The Galaxy did as well as possible both CCL and the regular season. They finished atop the league table with 67 points on the strength of a 19-5-10 record and claimed the Supporters’ Shield while advancing to the CCL quarterfinals after finishing atop Group A.
Now that New York are standing in the way in the first stage of the Galaxy’s fourth competition of 2011, Arena said the approach won’t change.
“Is there anything we’re doing to make it different?" Arena said. "No, I think we’re going about our business the same way. We’ve been successful doing what we’re doing. Why would we change? If we need to change at this time, I think we’re doing things wrong.”
LA’s adjustments came earlier in the year, and perhaps the biggest difference they needed to address was the slate of extra games. The Galaxy were guaranteed 34 regular-season games, one US Open Cup match and six Champions League group games, a total of 41 matches before the team even kicked off the season. And then there were international friendlies.
While Champions League was important for the club and advancing to the knockout rounds is a major accomplishment, it also posed a challenge for the team. In previous years, other CONCACAF participants have faltered in the playoffs, including FC Dallas earlier this year and Real Salt Lake and Columbus in 2010.
Such is the challenge facing the Galaxy now.
“Our league really isn’t prepared, our teams aren’t really prepared for the Champions League,” Arena said. “We don’t have the quality of depth on our roster. The travel is actually quite shocking – how time consuming it is, how much wear and tear it takes on your body. That certainly impacts teams. We’ve been fortunate where we’ve been able to travel right and just get through.”
A relatively fresh Red Bulls team, one that did not have to endure the rigors of Mexico and Central America during the season, will pose a challenge but Arena said he preferred the Red Bulls to the Rapids, citing Colorado’s altitude as a more difficult challenge than having to fly across the country.
And while Colorado or Columbus would have posed their own challenges, the Red Bulls offer something unique.
“New York’s a good team,” Arena said. “Whenever you talk about New York, you have to start with [Thierry] Henry. He’s the leader on the team, he’s become a playmaker, he’s been an important part of their defending shape. As Henry goes so do the Red Bulls."
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.