CARSON, Calif. – With success comes fixture congestion, something the LA Galaxy have already learned first-hand this year. On Wednesday they went to Toronto with the first XI and came away with a 2-2 draw. Three days later, they suffered through their home opener against Real Salt Lake.
The 3-1 defeat to RSL, punctuated by three late unanswered goals from their Western Conference foe, raised questions about the squad’s fitness after a long week of travelling.
Tired legs led to mistakes and opened the door for RSL to win. So surely LA will struggle in the second leg against Toronto FC on Wednesday at The Home Depot Center, right?
Left back Todd Dunivant is not buying it.
“It can be a little overblown too, the fatigue factor,” the Galaxy defender said. “It was mental mistakes and maybe part of that is heavy legs, but it’s kind of a fluke play on the own goal and then we let ourselves down from there. We kind of let the game slip.”
Players may have been feeling the Toronto match against RSL. After all, the team had to cope with a five-hour flight and the after-effects of having played on artificial turf ahead of the match.
This time around, not only did the Galaxy play on grass and stay local, they get an extra day to recover and prepare for the return leg of their quarterfinal series.
“We have an extra day’s rest this time. There’s a big difference between two days off between games and three,” Arena said. “The extra day is important. That brings a lot more players back into the equation.”
Immediately after Saturday’s loss, head coach Bruce Arena said he would have to make changes against TFC, but after Tuesday’s training session – most of which was closed to observers – Arena said the lineup would be dealt with individually.
“We’re going to make all decisions based on how players are feeling and we’re going to put the best team we can on the field and we’re trying to win the game,” he said.
Arena is not going to put players in positions to fail, team captain Landon Donovan said.
“We have some tired legs so we need to make sure we’re being managed properly but Bruce does a good job of that,” Donovan said.
Donovan himself was a bit of a question mark entering the series. Having not trained much for the better part of two weeks due to bronchitis, Donovan was nevertheless in the lineup against both Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake. On Saturday, he appeared stronger than he did in Canada. Fitness, he said, is certainly not an issue with him.
“The games have been good for me because I haven’t trained for a while,” he said. “I’m guessing I probably feel close to the best out of anyone here just because it’s nice to get your fitness back and get going again.”
And if the Galaxy are in position to advance late in Wednesday’s game, tired legs or not, the club will fight through it and try and book a spot in the CCL semifinals.
“You can push through that fatigue a little bit and at least keep a good shell and that’s kind of what we’ve done in the past,” Donovan said. “There won’t be any excuses.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org