CARSON, Calif. – When the LA Galaxy begin their quest for MLS Cup glory, an unlikely opponent will be on the opposing side.
For the right to play in the Western Conference Championship, LA will face a decidedly Eastern team: the New York Red Bulls. The Galaxy face New York on Sunday (3 pm ET, ESPN2/Deportes).
“I don’t know what makes sense anymore,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said.
The new-look playoff format pairs two teams pegged as potential MLS Cup finalists together in the conference semifinals. The Galaxy held up their end of the bargain by piling up 67 points and claiming the Supporters’ Shield along the way, while the Red Bulls slipped and battled to stay in the playoff picture and claimed one of two wild-card berths with a win in their final game of the season.
Taking a cross-country flight to face a Western foe is just one oddity the Galaxy will face in the postseason, but Galaxy coaches and players are ready to deal with it.
“I think what you need to do is kind of throw everything out the window and say, ‘This is another competition,’” Arena said. “This is a 10-team competition with a format. That’s what this is. All this is going to prove is who is the best team in this 10-game format over the next couple games.”
That playoffs are around in the first place is still a bit of a difficult thing for David Beckham to adjust to, even in his fifth season with the club.
“Anywhere else in the world we would be champions," Beckham said. "Do I agree with [playoffs]? No, I don’t agree with it. Obviously it should be the same everywhere else. I’d be sitting now with two league medals. But it’s not the same, so you have to get yourself up again for the playoffs, and it's tough after a long season of hard games. But it is what it is.”
No matter what opponent the playoff system coughed up for the Galaxy, the task remains the same as it would have all along: win. If the Galaxy get past New York, one game will stand before the team and a home final, as MLS Cup will be played at the Home Depot Center on Nov. 20.
“I’m not spending any time worrying about [the playoff format],” Arena said. “Right now all I’m concerned about is getting out team ready to play in New York this weekend."
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org