Their reward for claiming first place in the Eastern Conference at the latest point in the season since 2007? Quite possibly an even tougher road test, on short rest, in an emotional final encounter with a Major League Soccer legend.
Barely a season and a half removed from back-to-back championships, the Los Angeles Galaxy (11-5-7, 40 points) are one of the hottest teams in the league, unbeaten in five of the last six matches. Wednesday’s showdown at StubHub Center (10:30 p.m. EDT, CSN) will also be the last time D.C. United faces Landon Donovan (six goals, eight assists) before he retires at the end of the season.
But these are the kinds of games that players relish, and the Black-and-Red are embracing the latest challenge.
“Everyone is excited to play there,” said United defender Sean Franklin. “L.A., over the years, has been one of the best clubs in MLS, and for me it was fun to play there. We are up for the challenge. I think today was a good win for us to take the momentum into Wednesday's game and we have to bring the same mentality. It is going to be a tough game against them.”
Donovan’s farewell has overshadowed another extraordinary campaign from forward Robbie Keane (13 goals, 11 assists) and a breakout year for Homegrown forward Gyasi Zardes (10 goals, 1 assist).
“They have great players in Donovan and Keane, so it's going to be a another tough matchup,” United midfielder Perry Kitchen said. “Saying that, we're a good team as well.”
Like United, the Galaxy face a quick turnaround following their 2-0 win over Vancouver at home over the week. They’re also playing their third match in eight days, having beaten the Colorado Rapids, 4-3, on the road on Aug. 20.
In that game they demonstrated their mental toughness, staring at 2-0 and 3-1 deficits before reeling off three straight goals to secure the victory. Along with goals from Keane and Donovan, defender Omar Gonzalez and recently returned forward Alan Gordon also scored in the match.
“They have quality,” United midfielder Davy Arnaud said. “We knew this week was going to be a very tough week. We were going to have to rely on a lot of different players, which I think is a good thing, and I think we have the squad to do that.”
With wins by markedly different lineups in the CONCACAF Champions League and MLS regular season play over the past week, Head Coach Ben Olsen is confident in his ability to put the right mix of players on the field with an eye on getting a result and continuing to build toward securing a spot in the postseason.
“It's still a long season,” Olsen said. “It's nice for these guys to be on top for all the hard work they have put in. They get that there is more to this than right now, and we have got to quickly refocus and go to L.A., which is equally as tough a challenge as this. We are really excited to go out there and on to face New York next weekend.”