CARSON, Calif. – Blowouts. Tight contests. Come-from-behind victories.
All season long, the LA Galaxy have won games by various methods, but now the club is adding a new wrinkle to its arsenal: the late-game winner.
Last Saturday in Columbus, Chad Barrett scored in the third minute of stoppage time in a 1-0 win over the Crew. On Wednesday, it was Juninho’s turn to win a match late, as he scored in stoppage time in a CONCACAF Champions League match over Morelia.
“It’s just giving us another element to our game that we really haven’t shown so far this year, is getting that late goal,” Barrett said after the 2-1 triumph over Morelia. “There really can’t be a better time for it.”
While the Galaxy are closing in on their second consecutive Supporters’ Shield title, the club is poised to make a run at MLS Cup 2011. And once in the postseason, the necessity to grind out results and nab a late winner could arise.
“We’re coming into the playoffs now and a lot of games are going to be like that,” Barrett said. “They’re going to be crazy, they’re going to be intense and they’re going to come down to the last minute and who can get the last goal.”
Now, the Galaxy are prepared should the need arise to shine when the deck is stacked against them.
“Our guys do a really good job in those moments where we need to,” captain Landon Donovan said. “Fortunately, we don’t have to do that too often because we’ve done a good job of being up in games and not having to play that way. But at times during the year, you play in games where you’ve got to throw caution to the wind. ... We’re progressing in a lot of ways and it’s going to be great come playoff time.”
Breaking the tie
Alajuelense and Motagua will meet Thursday in Costa Rica, but the Galaxy won’t need to worry about the result. Regardless of what happens in Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto, LA control their own Champions League fate.
If the Galaxy beat Honduran side Motagua in Tegucigalpa on Oct. 20, they'll will advance to the quarterfinals no matter what happens between Alajuelense and Morelia two days prior, as the Galaxy hold a tiebreaker over Alajuelense based on goal differential against them.
“We win and we’re in,” said defender Todd Dunivant. "That’s what you want. You want to have that opportunity at the end of the six games, and we have that."
While the Galaxy are all but sleepwalking now, having played a midweek Champions League match now for three consecutive weeks, the club will be a in different position heading into Tegucigalpa. They will have nearly two full weeks of rest before playing Chivas USA on Oct. 16, which will be followed by the decisive match at Motagua.
Also, the club will have its full contingent – barring injuries – at its disposal. No players will be suspended for the match.
Still, while the task is straightforward, doing so won’t come without a challenge.
“It won’t be easy going into their stadium and winning there, but that’s got to be our job, that’s our focus,” Dunivant said. “If we do that, we’re through.”
Get the rest
In a season loaded with games, Galaxy coaches have had to shuffle lineups and rotate players to cover for various injuries, suspensions and international absences.
The need to give players a chance to rest has also been pressing, possibly now more than before. In September, LA played four league matches and three Champions League games. Coaches have juggled lineups and have tried to keep players fresh, and that lineup rotation has benefited the club.
Dunivant sat out a league match for the first time on Saturday, as he did not play against the Crew.
“I needed that,” he said. “At this stage of the season, playing as much as I have, every league game up that point and all four Champions League games up to that point, when you throw in friendlies and Open Cup as well, that’s a lot of games. I needed a break”
The Galaxy can wrap up the Supporters’ Shield as early as Saturday against Real Salt Lake if results go their way (a Sounders loss and a Galaxy win would do it), and if and when that happens, more players would be given chances to rest.
“We’ve given ourselves the opportunity,” Dunivant said. “Now we can take a little rest in the league. We’ve earned that and this is the time to cash those in.”