The L.A. Galaxy's road to the MLS Cup is now clear. After a 2-2 road draw with the Supporter's Shield winner San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday afternoon in Santa Clara. The Galaxy are the 4th seed in the West and will play a one game knockout match at home against the Vancouver Whitecaps (most likely Nov. 1 at the HDC). The winner will play San Jose in a two game home and away West Semifinal round. The path to a second straight title is not the one envisioned after last year's dominant, championship, run however the Galaxy still have a good chance to hoist the MLS Cup.
The Galaxy should not be overlooked. The defending champs started the season with an obvious championship hangover and multiple distractions. The Galaxy were bounced early from the CONCACAF Champions League by Toronto FC. MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez was sidelined until midseason after tearing his ACL on loan in Europe. The defense was in flux without Omar. To make matters worse, starting keeper Josh Saunders missed time due to personal issues. The Galaxy did not know if Beckham was going to play in the Olympics and Landon Donovan was experiencing an up and down ride with the U.S. National Team. At the end of May the Galaxy sat in last place in the West and the season was unraveling. They received three weeks off due to World Cup Qualifying and that is when everything changed.
Josh Saunders returned to the Galaxy lineup on June 17 vs. the Portland Timbers and earned a clean sheet with a 1-0 victory. Since his return the Galaxy posted a 12-4-4 record. Since Omar Gonzalez returned in July, the defense has been stabilized and the Galaxy have been tough to beat. Pair the Galaxy defense with firepower like Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Robbie Keane, and Juninho and it becomes the perfect mix of defense and offense that will give opponents fits in the playoffs.
The Galaxy SHOULD have little problem with Vancouver but anything can happen in a one game playoff. They will no doubt come out with guns blazing, ready to end the game early with a few first half goals. If they get past Vancouver, the two game set with San Jose would be one that will have more hype than any playoff match up in recent memory. The two teams do not like each other. Omar Gonzalez referred to San Jose's style of play as a "joke" when asked about Lenhart's antics around goal. The Angel City Brigade (Galaxy Supporter's Group) was kicked out of the match by campus police. There is bad blood on both sides. The Galaxy want the match up. The fans want the match up.
The Galaxy are a bit banged up at the moment with David Beckham experiencing late season ailments and Landon Donovan out with a knee injury but both should be back when L.A. faces Vancouver. The Galaxy's final regular season game is on Sunday, October 28 against Seattle. Both teams will most likely field a reserve squad as the game has no meaning.
It is time to look to the playoffs where anything can happen. Don't be surprised if the L.A. Galaxy end up playing for the MLS Cup when it is all said and done.