TORONTO – Playing for the LA Galaxy has typically meant playing for trophies.
Certainly over the last three years, that has been the case, as the Galaxy have reached two MLS Cup finals, collected two Supporters’ Shields and now find themselves in the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League.
But while the defending MLS Cup champs' fate is intertwined with the possibility of silverware, players are not taking the chance to win trophies as a given.
“As we saw with Salt Lake last year, you don't get too many opportunities to do something like this,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan told reporters on Sunday.
The Galaxy will compete against fellow MLS side Toronto FC for a spot in the region's final four, with the first leg of the home-and-away series slated for Toronto's Rogers Centre on Wednesday (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
A year ago, Real Salt Lake made a stunning run to the finals only to lose the decisive match to Monterrey at Rio Tinto Stadium. The Galaxy, meanwhile, hope to have a similar showing – at least through the first two rounds.
Standing in the way are a Toronto side that struggled initially under new coach Aron Winter in 2011, but finished the year off strong, with their second-place finish in Champions League's Group D a testament to that.
The Galaxy, though, have set their sights on starting off the year on the right foot, regardless of who is on the other side.
“The Champions League is important and we want to give ourselves a real chance," Donovan said. "It doesn't mean it's going to happen, but we really want to go for it."
The Galaxy are, of course, one of two MLS teams to win a CONCACAF trophy. But their title came back in 2000, when the tournament was held over the course of two weeks with all games played in Southern California. A run in this edition of the Champions League would be much more challenging given the travel and clubs involved, but Donovan said players are poised for success.
“We think we have a team that's capable of doing something special,” Donovan said. “You don't want to take that lightly.”
If there are any questions for Donovan, it's his own health situation. Bronchitis kept him out of the final match of his loan stint with Everton, then forced him to miss the United States' match against Italy.
He didn’t train much at all until Sunday. Missing two weeks after having had a strong showing for Everton in January and early February was frustrating, but Donovan now is focused on getting as close to tip-top shape as possible.
“The frustrating part was that I was fit and healthy as I’ve felt in a long time,” Donovan said. “You don't train for two weeks and you’re ill – it kind of takes it out of you. This week has been about kind trying to get fitness back and getting myself sharp again. Everything's happening the way it's supposed to and maybe that two week break was good in the long run.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
GET TICKETS to LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake, Saturday, March 10, 2012, 10:30 pm ET at The Home Depot Center