CARSON, Calif. – The rest of the LA Galaxy's schedule is nothing but giants: Real Salt Lake on Saturday, San Jose in two weeks, Seattle in the regular-season finale and then the same thing, more or less, when the playoffs begin.
At stake at the moment is seeding for the MLS Cup playoffs, with the Galaxy (15-11-5) battling RSL (16-11-4) and Seattle (13-7-10) for the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the Western Conference, with the other dropping into a play-in assignment against Vancouver or FC Dallas.
It's as if the playoffs start now.
“Absolutely,” said left back Todd Dunivant ahead of Saturday's date with RSL (9 pm ET, NBCN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). “These games are going to be playoff intensity. These matter. These games really matter, and now when you get down to these last couple, you know exactly what you need to do, and that's fun.”
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The Galaxy needed a golden summer to rise from last place in the conference into the fight for second.
“We've set ourselves up well,” Dunivant said. “But we've got to finish it off now. Three months ago, a lot of people didn't think we could be in this position. But we always believed, and we knew we had a good team, and we stuck together and the club has stuck by us, and I think we've rewarded that faith with some good results.”
One of the key results: a 3-2 victory June 20 at Real Salt Lake, after being down two goals, as Landon Donovan struck twice, including the 68th-minute winner. Throw out back-to-back one-goal losses at the end of June in San Jose and on July 4 against Philadelphia, and the Galaxy are 14-1-4 in competitive matches since mid-June.
“We needed results and we needed them fast,” Dunivant said. “We were eight points out of the playoffs at that point, and for 3-8-2 [to start the season], that's not bad. And we kind of looked at it that way. So suddenly we [beat Portland and RSL], and now we're two points out of the playoffs, and it's a whole different ballgame with 20 games to go.”
LA followed the RSL win by beating Vancouver to climb to fifth. They've been above the line all but one week since.
“I think that whole week was a turning point for us ...,” Donovan said. “I think it gave us some belief to go there and get a result like that. And what really helps is if we play them in the playoffs, we have the belief we can go there and do it again.”
So the playoffs begin now, right?
“No. That's three weeks. Four weeks,” Donovan said. “The [games against RSL, San Jose and Seattle are] going to be hard games, there's no question. At the end of all of it, whether we're second, third or fourth, we're going to have to play one of these teams in the first round, and that's when it's going to really matter. This is gearing towards it, but there's more to come.”