CARSON, Calif. – Once the Los Angeles Galaxy reached the 2009 playoffs, each passing game became incrementally more important.
Successful in their playoff battles, the Galaxy reached the greatest stage in MLS and finished the season with their most important game of the year, MLS Cup ’09.
On Saturday, the Galaxy will play their most important game since, when the Columbus Crew visit Home Depot Center.
“This for us is a championship game,” LA captain Landon Donovan said. “If we want to be where we want to be, we need to have home-field [advantage] throughout the playoffs in the West, and this is a team we might play in the final if we get there. This is a very, very big game for us.”
With Real Salt Lake drawing Seattle on Thursday, the Galaxy cannot slip into second place in the Western Conference with a loss. However, Columbus would overtake Los Angeles in the race for the Supporters' Shield and could potentially run the table through the rest of the year.
Columbus caught the Galaxy on points after beating D.C. United last weekend. Despite the nature of the situation – the Galaxy have been mired in a slump which helped Columbus catch them – such a tight race is necessary.
“This is good that it’s happened this way," Donovan said. "It’s good now that we have some competition. For a long time we’ve been six, eight, 10 points ahead of everybody and it makes you relax a little bit.”
The Galaxy likely won’t be able to relax against Columbus. Even when they don’t appear dangerous, the Crew can strike.
“Even in the game this past weekend against D.C. United, they made a goal out of nothing and they made it hold up,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “That’s part of being successful over 30 games, you steal games when they’re there to be stolen and having quality on other days.”
Guillermo Barros Schelotto pounced on a bad clearance attempt by DC ‘keeper Bill Hamid. Afterward, it was not a surprise that the Crew were able to make the goal stand.
“They defend very well,” Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said. “They’re a difficult team to score on. A lot of times they’ll sit in and defend and not necessarily play the prettiest but it’s effective.
"That was us the beginning of the year so we have to do a good job of not getting sucked in to getting stretched out again and being opened up. When we’ve done that we haven’t been successful. When we stay compact and keep it in front of us, we’re a difficult team to get scored on. That’s how they’ve been all year.”
The Galaxy might have their own weapon off the bench. David Beckham was activated from the disabled list Thursday and said he is hopeful of playing some sort of role in the match.
Coming back against one of the top teams in the league is not a hindrance for Beckham, but rather motivating.
“It’s a good thing," Beckham said. "You want to play against the best teams and you want to play against the best players, and if they’re considered up there with the best, if not one of the best, then that can only be good for me personally and obviously for the team."
The Galaxy will try and look for their first home win in more than two months – they last won at Home Depot Center on July 4 against Seattle, though they’ve only played three home games since, losing two and tying the other.
“We’re not playing the best right now but someone once told me the standings don’t lie,” Donovan said. “Over the course of the season, we’ve been the best team – but right now we’re not playing the best. We still feel like we’re a team that’s good enough to win.”