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GALAXY: Building on road success

It's a significant trip -- three games in eight days -- and at a particularly challenging part of the Galaxy's season, with the team still figuring out connections and the best places to put people, its best lineup, and still addressing that massacre two weeks ago at Real Salt Lake.

But L.A. heads into the first encounter on the eastern trek, Saturday night at longtime rival D.C. United, feeling good about itself and where it's heading after last week's defensive effort in a shutout victory over the Philadelphia Union.

Games Wednesday at Toronto FC and the following weekend at Chicago will surely test the Galaxy's fortitude, and unquestionably their depth, and they're eager to see how they respond.

"It's going to be hard ...," coach Bruce Arena acknowledged this week. "It's never easy, but we've been through it before. We understand the challenge, and we'll get after it."

L.A. (2-1-1) certainly heads into the games with great confidence after holding the Union without a shot on goal, despite a man advantage after Galaxy midfielder Chris Birchall's 53rd-minute red card, and it will be looking for something similar against D.C. (1-2-0).

"Defense was obviously our priority going into [the Union] game, and it will be going forward, too," left back Todd Dunivant said. "That's kind of our bread and butter and what's made us successful the last couple years. We let ourselves down against Salt Lake -- I think we were a step slow to everything, really, all over the field, and that was something we really wanted to emphasize [last weekend], and we did a good job stepping [to] the ball, being aggressive. ...

"Every game is going to be different, and there are going to be hiccups here and there. It's how you respond to them, and we responded really well last week."

Arena and his staff have decisions to make in all three games.

Landon Donovan skipped the training sessions at Home Depot Center this week to deal with fatigue, and he could start or come off the bench in Washington -- or take a break and return to action in Toronto. Does youngster Miguel Lopez again partner Juan Pablo Angel up front? Who plays on the right, with Birchall suspended and David Beckham in a new spot, at the base of midfield, where he can better influence the game with his creativity and passing ability?

And they'll figure out different lineups for Toronto and Chicago.

"I'll give you a coach's line: We're taking it one game at a time," associate head coach Dave Sarachan said. "But we've been in this business long enough to know that we're certainly going to make changes from D.C. into Toronto and then clearly assessing everything going into Chicago."

Beckham likes the challenge, and opportunities, of being on the road.

"You know, it could be a good thing, because we're together as a team," he said. "You get that time alone as a team, and you bond when you're away for so long. That part's going to be great."

The Galaxy has been tremendous on the road, going 16-6-12 -- including playoff games (1-0-1) and matches "at" Chivas USA (2-0-1, the tie in a playoff game) -- since the start of the 2009 season. They were 10-3-3 away last year, and only RSL and San Jose have won twice at home against L.A. in that span.

"We have a veteran team," Dunivant noted. "We have a good mentality, going in and defending first, being difficult to break down and then countering out of it, so if we continue to do that, we're going to be tough."

INJURY LIST: Forward Adam Cristman (knee surgery) is still on the disabled list, and defender Gregg Berhalter (sprained knee) remains out, too. Rookie midfielder Hector Jimenez is questionable following surgery on his right wrist, although he's unlikely to make the 18-man game roster even if 100 percent.

ALSO MISSING: Birchall is serving a one-game suspension for that red card last week against Philly.

  • THE OPPONENT

D.C. UNITED

Head coach

  • Ben Olsen, who took charge last August on an interim basis (after Curt Onalfo, now a Galaxy assistant, was canned) and given the job for real during the offseason, was a passionate and well-loved midfielder. He was a fairly speedy winger until ankle injuries slowed him and a solid central defender -- he played for the U.S. at the 2006 World Cup -- later in his career, almost all of which was spent at D.C.

Three key players

  • Forward Charlie Davies was a shoo-in starter for the U.S. at the 2010 World Cup until suffering major injuries in a deadly October 2009 car crash. He's making his comeback with D.C., on loan from France's Sochaux, and has three goals (two of them on penalty kicks) in two appearances off the bench.

  • Winger Andy Najar, just 18, is one of the two or three most explosive attacking players in MLS, and he was the league's rookie of the year last year because of it. He committed to his native Honduras' national team, rather than the U.S., last week.

  • Canadian goalkeeper Pat Onstad, at 43 the oldest player in MLS history, retired last December after eight seasons with San Jose/Houston and joined D.C.'s coaching staff. Injuries to Bill Hamid and Steve Cronin brought him back to the field.

Current form/prospects

  • MLS's worst team last season started 2011 off well, beating Columbus as Davies came off the bench to score twice, but they've been shorthanded in losses at New England (where poor officiating hurt) and Colorado thanks to injuries, suspension and international duty. Rookie Perry Kitchen's return from the U.S. U-20s give United its favored center-back tandem for the first time since the opener, and Davies' and central midfielder Clyde Simms' recoveries from injury strengthens it up top and in the middle. D.C. is coming off a penalty-kicks victory over Philadelphia in a U.S. Open Cup qualifier Wednesday.

Local connections

  • Third-year forward/midfielder Chris Pontius is from Yorba Linda and played at Servite High School, for Irvine Strikers and at UC Santa Barbara. ... Forward Joseph Ngwenya began his pro career in L.A., playing for the Galaxy in 2005-06. ... Injured goalkeeper Steve Cronin spent four seasons with the Galaxy, was their starter in 2008. ... Midfielder Santino Quaranta played six games for L.A. in 2007, before heading into drug rehab. ... Midfielder Dax McCarty's younger brother, Dustin, is a Galaxy rookie. ... Davies' family lives in San Diego.

Missing

  • United is missing Cronin (fractured wrist), defenders Devon McTavish (concussion) and Jed Zayner (hamstring strain), and midfielder Junior Carreiro (sprained ankle). Davies (groin strain) and Simms (calf strain) are listed as probable, but Olsen says both are ready to go. Defender Rodrigo Brasesco isn't on the league injury list, but he's dealing with a groin strain.

  • THE GAME

At RFK Stadium (Washington), 4:30 p.m. PT

TV: Fox Sports West

Radio: K-Talk (KTLK/1150) and ESPN Deportes (KWKW/1330, Spanish)

Referee: Abiodun Okulaja