CARSON -- The Galaxy have one more game before they can jump back into preseason for a couple of weeks, and all expectations are that Bruce Arena will do as he should have a week ago and give a largely reserve lineup a run out against D.C. United.
Sunday afternoon's showdown at Home Depot Center between longtime Major League Soccer rivals wraps up a rough 12-day stretch for the Galaxy, who collapsed in their league opener and fumbled away their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series with as horrid a start to the season as could be imagined.
Arena used nearly identical starting lineups in both Champions League matches against Toronto FC and the 3-1 MLS defeat to Real Salt Lake, and tired legs, problems with chemistry and the effects of too abbreviated a preseason added up to disaster -- even as the Galaxy played some decent soccer.
“One, you stick to what you do as a general statement, because it's not like we've been played off the park in any game, it's not like we've been battered any game, and we're not much of a different team from last year, with one glaring omission,” captain Landon Donovan said. “But we have to be honest with ourselves and figure out what's going wrong. I think we have a good idea now, after three games.
“Unfortunately, right now we don't have the time to analyze it a lot. We will in the next two weeks, but we've got to get ourselves right emotionally for [the D.C. game] and make sure we have guys on the field who can run and play hard for 90 minutes.”
That's key after the Galaxy, weary from travel and a fierce schedule to start their campaign, faded at the end of the losses last Saturday to RSL and Wednesday night to Toronto, their first back-to-back HDC defeats in five years. The glaring omission -- injured center back Omar Gonzalez -- is massive, but the problems extend deeper than inadequately filling the hole left behind.
Donovan, asked Friday about the difficulty repeating as MLS Cup champions -- it has been done only twice -- took the topic further.
“In all sports, it becomes difficult because your human tendency is to relax a little bit: 'Oh, we won the championship, we're the champions, we think we're great.' Success is a very dangerous thing,” he said. “Sometimes, it makes very talented and smart and able people think they're better than they are, and we need to take a little bit of a look at ourselves and make sure we're doing the things we did in previous years that made us successful.”
That will come in the next two weeks. After Sunday's game, the Galaxy is off until March 31, and Donovan and forward Robbie Keane, who looked well out of sorts Wednesday, will get their first real sessions with their teammates after returning this month from loans to English clubs.
“I think that's vital,” Donovan said. “I think we're all kind of ready for it. It's been, obviously, not an ideal start, but it's also been a tiring start to the season. … We haven't been together, and you can't overestimate that. That's a big part of it. We haven't been on the practice field together, so we have these issues that we see going on in the games, but all you can do is say it at the time in the game -- you're not on the field working on it on a daily basis. …
“We want to make sure we've got everyone on board Sunday, get the result we want, and then really spend time, one, resting and, two, getting on the field and working on things we need to improve.”
WORTH NOTING: The Galaxy will receive their MLS Cup championship rings in a pregame ceremony. … Arena wouldn't discuss his lineup options, but a number of first-choice players likely will be missing. Donovan, who said he could play 90 minutes, agrees: “I would be shocked if the same 11 went out on the field to start the game. We need some energy. Not only energy in the beginning of the game, but guys who can keep going after 60, 70 minutes. The last two games, we've let ourselves down in that period. We need to make sure we have enough guys who can play for 90 minutes.” … Galaxy midfielder Michael Stephens and D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid and defender/midfielder Perry Kitchen are with the U.S. under-23 national team in Nashville, preparing for next week's start to CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. … The Galaxy leads the all-time series, 17-15-8, but D.C. won the two most important meetings, in the 1996 and 1999 MLS Cup finals. … L.A. did not notch its first victory in 2009, Arena's first full season in charge, until game 6. After 11 matches, they were 1-1-9. The team won the Western Conference and advanced to MLS Cup that season. … D.C. will remain on the West Coast until its game next weekend in Vancouver.
Head coach: Ben Olsen
Key players: F/M Dwayne De Rosario, F/M Chris Pontius, M Andy Najar, M Branko Boskovic, F Hamdi Salihi.
Local guys: Pontius (Yorba Linda).
Update: United gamely battled Eastern Conference favorite Sporting Kansas City before conceding a set-piece goal deep in stoppage for a 1-0 loss in last week's opener at RFK Stadium. The pressure is on D.C. icon Olsen to get to the playoffs, at the very least, after shoring up the backline and adding in Albanian striker Salihi a proven goalscorer. United has missed the postseason four successive seasons after back-to-back Supporters' Shields in 2006-07 led to nothing more. De Rosario, the reigning MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner, is still seeking fitness and form after dealing with a groin injury much of preseason.
Out: F Adam Cristman (concussion), D Omar Gonzalez (left ACL tear), M Bryan Jordan (left hamstring strain), D Leonardo (right ACL/LCL tears), M Kyle Nakazawa (tonsillectomy), M Jose Villarreal (bilateral lower leg surgery).
Out: M Kurt Morsink (left foot neurectomy), D Ethan White (right knee inflammation).
Home Depot Center (Carson), 4 p.m.
Referee: Baldomero Toledo
TV: KDOC/Channel 56 (English) and Galavision (Spanish)
Radio: K-Talk (KTLK-AM/1150, English) and ESPN Deportes (KWKU-AM/1220, Spanish)