CARSON, Calif. – In a typical season, teams participating in the Western Conference Championship would have a full week to prepare for the match and recover from the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
However, the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake are faced with unique circumstances this year. The Galaxy will have exactly two full days off between games while RSL will have three ahead of Sunday’s clash (9 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
At least all four teams left standing in the postseason are dealing with the same situation.
“The challenges for all the teams now left in the competition are fatigue, injury ... but it’s difficult. It’s a lot of games in a short period of time and a lot of travel,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “MLS … fully understood some of the issues surrounding the schedule of the MLS Cup this year, and certainly with World Cup qualifiers and with European qualification next week, it took precedence over our league schedule.”
Since the first weekend of September, MLS has stepped aside for international fixture dates. With European Championship qualifying games and World Cup qualifying already underway around the world, FIFA set aside weekends in order to get games in.
In the past, MLS has played through such dates but this year the league has followed suit with most of the rest of the globe, as most leagues across the world typically do not schedule games on such dates.
Even though it puts stress on his club, Arena did not disagree with the postseason setup.
“It’s very important that we do that. We actually had a game scheduled [during an international weekend] – Salt Lake, in Salt Lake the third game of the season this year – and you can’t do that,” Arena said. “During international fixture dates, official competitions, I think the league has to shut down.”
That MLS Cup 2011 will be played at the Home Depot Center is nothing new – that particular announcement came out months ago.
However, an MLS Cup at the HDC now carries a bit of a different meaning. Instead of coming up with scenarios and waiting for weeks and months to see if the Galaxy actually had a chance of making the match, the situation is now quite simple: Win, and MLS Cup will indeed be a home match.
Players thus have the ultimate carrot dangling before them.
“It’s a huge incentive, the fact that we have the chance to play in front of our fans,” Galaxy defender Sean Franklin said. “It would be big for our team and our organization to play in the final since we’re hosting. It’s all the more to go out and just win, not just for ourselves but for our fans who have watched us the whole season."
Revenge no factor
Now that RSL and the Galaxy are set to have their rematch of MLS Cup 2009, is it time for LA to exact some revenge?
“That’s in the past,” Franklin said. “It’s a new year, kind of the same teams but all that’s in the past.”
Losing in MLS Cup was disappointing, but the match saw a pair of Galaxy players leave with injury, adding to the difficulty of the game. Early in the second half, Omar Gonzalez and Donovan Ricketts collided with one another as Robbie Findley scampered into the penalty area. Both players eventually left the match.
Gonzalez has stored that somewhere in the recesses of his memory bank.
“That was something that happened in the past," he said. "Of course it is on our minds, but we can’t think about it as revenge. It’s a whole new year. We’ve been working on getting better and better since 2009 and we’ve got new players on our team and everyone is focused and just ready to win.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org