CARSON, Calif. – Obviously, bad memories linger.
The LA Galaxy this week have been reliving one of their most disappointing episodes of the season: the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal defeat to Monterrey back in April. It's the last time they were in a two-legged series, and they carried a lead into the final 10 minutes of their opening home leg back then, they conceded two late goals for a 2-1 loss they couldn't overcome in the second leg down in Mexico.
The Galaxy open their Western Conference Semifinal series with Real Salt Lake at home Sunday evening, and they're adamant they won't let the opportunity pass them by, as it did seven months ago.
“You've got to play 180 minutes, and we learned that against Monterrey,” said defender Todd Dunivant, who is hoping he can return from a sprained medial collateral ligament for the playoff opener at the StubHub Center. “We were up, 1-0, against Monterrey and were pushing for more and really dominated that game, but gave the game away in the last [10 minutes]. We weren't disciplined, got out of our shape, and it cost us. And suddenly we're going there with a loss rather than a 1-0 win.
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“You have to be smart, you have to take your chances when you gt them, but you can't get too greedy.”
Dunivant said that it's “definitely a topic of conversation” within the team and that LA has to “be able to manage these 180 minutes. It's not all or nothing in this first leg.”
The Galaxy haven't lost in five home-and-home MLS playoff series since Bruce Arena took charge in August 2008, but they're 1-3 in CCL series, also falling to the Puerto Rico Islanders in the 2010-11 preliminary round and to Toronto FC in the 2011-12 quarterfinals.
LA have started at home in four of nine such series, and they've won the opener only once – routing Seattle, 3-0, en route to a 4-2 aggregate victory in last year's Western Conference Championship. They overcame a 1-0 home loss to beat San Jose in the Western Semifinals last year but couldn't come back from home defeats in the CCL clashes with the Islanders or Monterrey.
Dunivant hurt his right knee when he collided with goalkeeper Brian Rowe after heading away a shot in the Galaxy's victory Oct. 16 over Montreal, and he missed the draws with San Jose and Seattle to close the regular season. He returned to full training Thursday and said his goal is “to be ready as an option” on Sunday.
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“I've been working real hard to come back ahead of schedule, and so far, so good,” he said following Friday morning's training session. “I think fitness-wise, I'm doing pretty well, and now just getting all the confidence back cutting and the lateral stuff.”
The initial diagnosis pointed to a mid-November return at the earliest, and he said it was “hard to say” whether he could provide the Galaxy with extended minutes if he is available. Rookie Greg Cochrane, who has fared well in nine MLS and 12 first-team starts, is ready if Dunivant can't go.
“You can't hobble into the playoffs,” Dunivant said, “and Greg's done a good job filling in, so we have options, and that's a good thing.”