CARSON, Calif. – FC Dallas have been out of the MLS Cup Playoffs for nearly a week, but they’re still in the heads of the LA Galaxy.
Twelve months ago, Schellas Hyndman’s crew came into the Home Depot Center and caught an overconfident Galaxy side completely off-guard in the Western Conference Championship. Before the 2010 Supporters’ Shield winners knew what was happening, Dallas ran out overwhelming winners in a 3-0 upset that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
That loss still stings to this day, and this year’s Galaxy have taken that lesson to heart.
“We learned a ton from that game, unfortunately,” attacker Mike Magee told MLSsoccer.com at training on Tuesday.
“Just wearing an LA Galaxy jersey isn’t going to win you games and, I think on that day, we just came out with no energy and we kind of thought we were going to the MLS Cup and we had written FC Dallas off. We’re not going to make that mistake again.”
This year’s Galaxy are better than the one that was picked by most to win MLS Cup 2010. They had few troubles defending their Shield this year while putting together one of the best defensive seasons in MLS history. That grit was on display in Sunday’s first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals, where the Galaxy snuck out of Red Bull Arena with a hard-earned 1-0 victory.
But they’re not necessarily going to play it safe in the return fixture. Even though the Galaxy know the Red Bulls have no choice but to push forward for goals during Thursday’s second leg (11 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes, TSN2), LA players say the game plan is not just to sit back and rely on their stout defense.
“I think we can do as much attacking as they can and we’re not going to sit back for 90 minutes and try and withstand their pressure,” said left back Todd Dunivant, who will have the doubly tough job of marking Dane Richards and overlapping right back Jan Gunnar Solli.
“I think we’re going to try and attack and be on the front foot as well because, if we’re just sitting back the whole time, they’re too dangerous and it’s going to be a long 90.”
The key, say Galaxy players, is to keep the pressure on like it’s a single-knockout game and search for insurance goals. Only then will it be time to fall back. Dunivant thinks that perhaps LA turned off the pressure too early in the first leg, when they started to retreat into a defensive shell near the hour mark after generating multiple scoring chances.
Fellow defender A.J. DeLaGarza agrees, adding that the Galaxy will push for a second or third goal on Thursday and not even think about taking their foot off the gas until at earliest the 70th minute.
“You don’t want to just fall back and give them all the space,” he said of New York’s high-octane attack, “but you’re trying to protect the lead and not trying to expose yourself on the outside or leave space open so guys are kind of tentative to go. Late in the game, people know that you have to be safe and play the balls we feel we have to.”
In all, the Galaxy respect their opponent despite the fisticuffs ending on Sunday. If they’re looking past Thursday’s game, they know they’ll fall into the same trap that torpedoed their title hopes last November.
“We’ve got experience,” said midfielder Chris Birchall, who may slot in Thursday for suspended Juninho. “We don’t want what happened last year to happen again with Dallas coming here and turning us over. We’re wary, but we know, if any year that we’re going to do it, it’s going to be this year with all the games being at home.”