Before the 2005 MLS campaign began, the Los Angeles Galaxy set a team goal to win the regular season Western Conference title. Now, with just seven games remaining on their schedule, that goal seems like a rather distant task.
The Galaxy currently sit in third place in the West, nine points behind conference leader San Jose. The Quakes also have a game in hand, which means as a worst-case scenario, the Galaxy might have to make up 12 points in seven games.
It's not an impossible task, and the Galaxy feel like the schedule favors them. Five of their last seven games are at home. The Home Depot Center has been a great place to the Galaxy, having only dropped one contest all year there -- their last home contest, a 1-0 loss to D.C. United on July 23.
On Sunday, the Galaxy host the surprise team in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Fire. After having spent the majority of the summer on the road, the boys from Victoria Street finally return home, and are brimming with confidence.
"One thing we build our team character on is our dominance here at the Home Depot Center," said Pete Vagenas. "It's important that we get five wins, it's important that we get 15 points and that's something that we shoot for."
The Galaxy do have a huge advantage when they play at home. The playing surface at the HDC is the biggest field in the league and suits the Galaxy's abundance of speed on offense. It's something that center back Tyrone Marshall says can cause fits for opposing defenders.
"People have to defend us on a bigger field. Our field imposes an obstacle for other teams because we have all those options up top," said Marshall. "It gives us an opportunity to play our game and open them up."
The tactical and mental advantage of playing at home is going to have to be the driving force behind any sort of run at the top spot out West for the Galaxy. But even more important could be the club's opponents over the stretch run. All seven of the remaining opponents for the Galaxy are currently in line to reach the playoffs.
Going up against nothing but playoff teams will make the job more difficult, but has two definite advantages. If the Galaxy can manage to win these home games, not only will they pick up valuable points, but also they will be preventing their closest competition from earning points themselves.
Also, playing top quality competition the rest of the way will help create a playoff mentality in the Southland long before the playoffs ever start, and that's exactly what the Galaxy need according to Steve Sampson.
"What I've told my players is that every game is important. We're going to work very hard to get that home field advantage," said the Galaxy head coach. "But the most important think is that we're playing our very best when it counts the most."
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.