CARSON, Calif. – When the LA Galaxy take on Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night in the Knockout Round of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs (10:30 pm ET; UniMás in US, TSN1, TSN5, RDS2 in Canada), there’s an argument to be made that they’ll be led by Giovani dos Santos.
Dos Santos has made the most 2016 appearances of the Galaxy's trio of Designated Players, and he leads the team in both goals and assists (14 and 12, respectively). Yet even with his fellow DPs Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard recovering from injuries, he doesn’t feel it’s on him to carry the team on his back.
“Nah, I think everyone’s a leader in our team,” said dos Santos after Tuesday's practice. “My responsibility on the pitch is just to create chances, sometimes score goals. I think everyone knows what they have to do on the pitch right now.”
The Mexican international's stellar season has earned him a successful return to El Tri. But he's cooled off a bit lately, with no goals and one assist in LA's last five games since notching two of each in a dominant performance vs. Orlando on Sept. 11. Coach Bruce Arena rested him in Sunday's 0-0 draw with FC Dallas and he's eager to make his mark in the postseason.
The Galaxy exiting the playoffs early last season didn’t give him a chance to create that defining or dramatic postseason moment, like Keane’s MLS Cup match winner in 2014, or Landon Donovan’s Cup-winning goal in 2011.
That element, knowing the spotlight would be on him and his team, seems to animate dos Santos.
“Of course we know we have the responsibility to win on Wednesday,” said dos Santos. “It’s a must-win. So we’re excited.”
While leading the team in assists certainly backs up dos Santos’ role as chance creator, the team has undeniably counted on him to score goals this season. In some ways his exact role for the club is still a work in progress, with dos Santos' and Keane's propensity to drift into the same spaces sometimes working against them.
That doesn’t mean dos Santos changes his approach when working with different personnel.
“I think my role is always the same,” said dos Santos. “I try to create chances either for Keano, [Emmanuel] Boateng, Sebastian [Lletget], [Mike] Magee, Gordo [Alan Gordon]. My role on the pitch is still the same.”
LA's last meeting with Real Salt Lake, at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sept. 7, ended in a dramatic 3-3 draw. It was a stellar game for dos Santos, who set up Boateng early, then smashed home two of his own in the second half. Unfortunately for the Galaxy, they coughed up what looked like a road victory late as the final moments got fairly heated.
So does any of that passion from last time out carry over into this game?
“It’s a different game,” said dos Santos. “They’re a good team. We’re in a good shape right now, so hopefully we can make another great game.”