There's a reason the Galaxy are streaking ahead in Major League Soccer's Supporters' Shield race, and it has nothing to do with wins and losses -- and Landon Donovan understands that.
L.A.'s schedule has been heavy early, will be heavy late and isn't all that bad for the next month or so, when the importance of bulking up on points will become apparent.
The Galaxy play their 15th game of the season Saturday, most in the league, when they visit the New England Revolution. It's the last game they'll have Donovan and Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who depart afterward for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and their captain says it's important to pick up three more points.
And not as insurance while he and the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year are away, for as long as a month.
“I'm not worried about us leaving,” said Donovan, MLS's scoring leader, with eight goals. “Our team is accustomed to dealing with absences. We're not a team that plays the same 11 or 12 or 13 guys the whole year. … I don't worry about how we're going to do -- we're going to be fine once we're gone.
“But I think most important is when you've played this many more games than teams, you have to make sure you're getting points and getting ahead so every time they look at the standings, it's daunting. We want to make it so that they have to come catch us.”
It looks daunting. L.A. is 7-2-5 for 26 points, and the only side less than nine points back is FC Dallas (6-3-3), which has 21. But two-thirds of the league's teams have played three or fewer games than the Galaxy has, and a couple -- including preseason Western Conference favorite Real Salt Lake -- have six games in hand.
The lead isn't what it appears. If FC Dallas wins both games it needs to catch up, the Galaxy is a point behind. If RSL wins out -- yes, unlikely -- it would have 41 points from 14 games.
L.A.'s schedule was front-loaded to prepare for a busy August through October, when it plays six midweek CONCACAF Champions League matches in addition to MLS games. The more games now, the less then.
After Saturday's game against the Revolution (3-4-4), the Galaxy has just four games before its annual Fourth of July encounter. RSL, for one, plays six games in that span.
REVVED-UP CENTER: Where New England is special is in central midfield, where Shalrie Joseph and Irvine's Benny Feilhaber are among MLS's most dangerous partnerships. Joseph, a two-way midfielder who can do practically everything, has been the Revs' fulcrum for years; Feilhaber adds another dimension with his vision, skill and passing ability.
“Anytime Shalrie's playing, they have a chance to win in this league,” Donovan said. “They've shuffled pieces around him for four or five years, but every year they're competitive.”
“Benny gives them an ability to do something different that they haven't had over the last few years. … Generally, they've been a team that's very direct, kind of predictable. Now they have a chance to do something special in a moment with Benny, so we have to be aware of that.”
MISSING: Center backs Leonardo and Sean Alvarado are out for the year with torn knee ligaments. Former Revolution forward Adam Cristman, still questionable as he returns from a knee injury, is the only other player on the league injury report.
According to the travel list written on the whiteboard in the Galaxy locker room Wednesday night, forward Juan Pablo Angel did not travel for the match. David Beckham has returned, joining up with the team in New England after missing Wednesday's victory over Houston to play in Gary Neville's testimonial Tuesday in England.
WORTH NOTING: Joseph's third-minute goal enabled New England to spoil the Galaxy's home opener March 20, pulling out a 1-1 draw in atrocious conditions. Chivas USA blew out the Revs, 3-0, in their second Home Depot Center visit a month ago. … The Galaxy have beaten the Revs in Foxborough, in real terms, just four times in 15 years. The biggest was in the 2002 MLS Cup final. L.A. also won twice in the old shootout tiebreaker. … Joseph told the Boston Globe that he might change his mind about joining Grenada for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and will “see how I feel after the L.A. game. … I’ve got to look in the mirror and make sure this is the right decision I’m making.” Grenada plays Jamaica at Home Depot Center on June 6. … Feilhaber has played in only five of the Revs' 11 games, but he's been fouled a team-most 19 times.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Steve Nicol, a defender, mostly, on the great Liverpool sides of the 1980s and into the 1990s, is the longest-serving coach in the league -- he's in his 10th season at the Revolution's helm -- and one of the best, taking the Revs to four MLS Cup title games.
Three key players
Joseph, 33, nominally a central midfielder but likely to pop up most anywhere on the field, remains one of MLS's most dominant figures, and he's responded to some off-field troubles with a superb start for the Revs.
Feilhaber, a U.S. national-teamer who joined New England last month after stints in Germany, England and Denmark, provides a critical dimension for New England: He's got the vision, touch and wherewithal to deliver the final ball -- whether from distance or with the most intricate of touches.
Goalkeeper Matt Reis, 36, long one of MLS's best, has gone through a tough spell, missing much of last season through shoulder, knee and ankle surgeries and enduring another shoulder injury early in this campaign.
The Revs have been solid at home, going 3-1-2 -- and the loss is to Real Salt Lake -- but they've scored just once from the run of play in their past four league games and have seen their attacking depth whittled by injury. Nicol has gone to a 4-5-1 alignment, with Rajko Lekic the lone forward, and it might be suitable to smother L.A.'s potent midfield. New England is coming off a 5-0 midweek loss to Sporting Kansas City in a U.S. Open Cup qualifying final, but few regulars featured for the Revs.
Feilhaber, from Irvine, played at Northwood High School, for Irvine Strikers and at UCLA. … Reis, from Rancho Santa Margarita, starred at Santa Margarita Catholic High School and led UCLA to an NCAA title in 1997. And he started his pro career with the Galaxy.
Midfielders Marko Perovic (sprained knee), Ousmane Dabo (adductor strain), Kheli Dube (whiplash) and Kenny Mansally (foot contusion) are out, and midfielder Stephen McCarthy (shoulder subluxation) is probable. Dube was hurt in a car accident departing the stadium after the team returned from last weekend's trip to San Jose.
At Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.), 5 p.m. PT
TV: Fox Sports West and Galavision
Radio: K-Talk (KTLK-AM/1150, English) and ESPN Deportes (KWKW-AM/1330, Spanish)
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez