The Galaxy have not so quietly put together Major League Soccer's longest, and among its least impressive, unbeaten streaks this season, one game shy of a dozen heading into Saturday night's Home Depot Center clash against the Chicago Fire.
They're 5-0-6 since a May 1 loss at FC Dallas, but their once-commanding lead in the Supporters' Shield and Western Conference races has been whittled to just two points by the Hoops, who have two games in hand.
It has been a difficult stretch for L.A. (9-2-9), even if the results fail to illuminate that. Injuries and international duty have tested depth all over the field, and if that depth has been solid, the need to use it has thwarted the Galaxy from developing an attacking rhythm as they look to transition from a counterattacking team into a possession side.
They've got seven starters of one stripe or another on the injury list this week, including most of the first-choice defense -- and several key backups in the back, too -- and David Beckham, who has a spinal fracture that cost him two games and limited him to short time in Monday's scoreless draw with Seattle.
"If you put together the number of games that key players have missed, and at the end of this we're still the team with the most points in the league?" Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said this week. "It ain't that bad. Is it perfect? No. What're you gonna do? ...
"[Our depth] hasn't been perfect, but it's been good. There's been plenty of teams in the league that have had to deal with the same things. It goes in ebbs and flows throughout the season. There's good periods, there's times when you're flat and times when you're down. I don't think we're down, but we could have grabbed a few more points in the first 20 games this season. We know that."
One thing restricting the Galaxy has been the amount of time Beckham and Landon Donovan, their two most important players, have spent on the field together. Beckham has been slowed by several injuries, none of the rest as potentially serious as his current affliction, and Donovan was away for a month with the U.S. national team at the Gold Cup. Both were on the field for 23 minutes plus stoppage against Seattle, Donovan's first game since the U.S. defeat to Mexico at the Rose Bowl.
"When you're playing games at home and you're tying, it's difficult," said Donovan, noting that L.A. has drawn its last three games at HDC. "And more importantly, it's not the results, it's the way we play. We haven't played well. We need to get back to playing the way we play, and when we do that, we're successful. If we do that, the results will take care of themselves."
Said Beckham: "We're happy we haven't lost [during this stretch], but we're also not happy that we haven't finished teams off when we feel we should be finishing teams off. ... We know what we're doing wrong, it's just about putting it right."
BECKHAM'S BACK: Beckham isn't certain he'll be available against Chicago -- it all depends on how his back feels. He said it was "a little bit sore, a little bit stiff" after Monday's game but that he feels "strong enough now to possibly start the game" if he can go.
The injury, a slight fracture, affects his ability to twist and turn, and "that's probably something that, unfortunately, I do every time I kick the ball or I run or I turn."
"Everything else feels great. It's just the back," he said. "Obviously, it is a major concern when you get back injuries, but I've not got to have surgery -- that was the lucky thing that came out of it -- but I have to be careful. If I continue to push it when it's not right, then surgery will be out there."
Beckham, 36, has dealt with so many ailments lately, none more debilitating than the Achilles' tendon rupture that sidelined him most of 2010. "The last few years, I've had injuries I've never had before in my career," he said. "I suppose that's a sign of getting old."
WORTH NOTING: Chad Barrett and Omar Gonzalez tallied as L.A. won, 2-1, on April 17 at Toyota Park. ... The Galaxy is 18-17-5 all-time against Chicago and 9-7-3 in So Cal. ... Beckham will be suspended with his next yellow card. He missed the first game against Chicago while serving a suspension for yellow-card accumulation. ... Former Cal State Northridge star Daniel Paladini is available after missing Chicago's draw last week at HDC with Chivas USA. ... Cristian Nazarit scored a hat trick and Woodland Hills' Orr Barouch added two goals as the Fire destroyed FC Dallas, 5-0, in an MLS Reserve League game Tuesday.
MISSING: Donovan Ricketts is out because of a broken arm. ... Center backs Leonardo and Sean Alvarado are out for the season with torn knee ligaments. ... Beckham, Barrett (sprained knee), Gonzalez (hip pointer) and defenders A.J. DeLaGarza (head/face trauma), Sean Franklin (hamstring strain) and Frankie Hejduk (ankle inflammation) are questionable.
Greek-born Frank Klopas, 44, a gifted forward during his playing days, spent more than a decade with the U.S. national team and was part of the 1994 World Cup squad. He played with his hometown Chicago Sting indoors starting at 17, eight years in Greece and wrapped his career with stints in MLS with Kansas City and the Fire. He became Chicago's technical director in January 2008 and took over as interim coach when Carlos de los Cobos was dismissed at the end of May.
Three key players
Guatamalan midfielder Marco Pappa, 23, quickly emerged as one of MLS's most skilled and dangerous attacking midfielders upon joining the Fire in 2008. He's scored five goals this yerar.
Speedy Ghanaian forward Dominic Oduro, 25, has been in MLS since 2006, and he's just starting to tap into his potential, with five goals and a couple of assists in 18 games since arriving in a trade from Houston right after the MLS openers.
Uruguayan-born, Argentine-raised forward Diego Chaves, 25, scored in his first three games with the Fire. He's quieted down since, but remains dangerous in their attack.
The Fire (2-4-12) feel a lot better about their chances since Klopas took charge, and they're playing with a lot more joy since the change. It's not led to as many points as they'd like, but they're riding an eight-game MLS unbeaten streak and have lost just once in their last 13 while setting a league record with six successive draws at home and moving within two ties of the league single-season mark, 14, set last year by FC Dallas. They've got the tools for a dynamic attack, with Pappa, Oduro, Chaves and winger Patrick Nyarko -- and with Barouch and Nazarit taking on expanded roles -- and appear capable of making a move if they can get all the pieces working together.
Paladini starred at St. Francis High School in La Cañada Flintridge, and he played for the Galaxy's reserve side in 2006-07 and was with Chivas USA in 2008. ... Barouch played at El Camino Real High School and for West Valley Samba and Real So Cal and in Chivas USA's youth academy. ... Colombian defender Yamith Cuesta was with Chivas in 2009-10 and opened camp with the Goats this season. ... Backup goalkeeper Jon Conway was on Chivas' roster in 2009. ... Rookie defender Jalil Anibaba was born in Fontana, but he grew up in Davis.
Midfielder Mike Banner and defender Steven Kinney remain out with Achilles injuries, and midfielder Marko Maric is out with a deltoid sprain.
At Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Soccer Channel
Radio: K-Talk (KTLK-AM/1150, English) and ESPN Deportes (KWKW-AM/1330, Spanish)
Referee: David Gantar