Twenty-four hours ago, LA Galaxy looked like they were in bad shape. It was unclear whether any of Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez, or Robbie Keane would play. Jaime Penedo was still coming back from international duty. A.J. DeLaGarza’s still out. With the enigmatic Montréal Impact visiting StubHub, Bruce Arena’s side were chasing some much-needed points without some highly-valued talents.
But that depth that we gawked at season’s onset — those much-discussed talents that inspire envy whenever an opposing coach looks at LA’s bench — managed to deliver three points. Still, with Jose Villareal and Jack McBean up top, Gyasi Zardes and Michael Stephens wide, it was a man-less-likely who stepped up. Kofi Opare (pictured), a second round pick who was playing at the University of Michigan this time last year, sorted through the chaos of a second half corner to pounce on the match’s only goal, turning on a loose ball near the spot to punch a left-footed finish into the left side of Evan Bush’s goal. Making Montréal rue their hour’s worth of missed chances, Opare’s first career goal delivered a 1-0 victory.
Those three points pushed LA into third in the West, their 51 points bringing Portland and Real Salt Lake within reach. Coming off their weekend win over rival Seattle, the Timbers sit a surprising first in the conference (53 points), with RSL one point behind. Both have designs on the Supporters’ Shield, but any slip over their last two matches could see them passed by the defending champions (or Seattle).
And one of the sides will slip. On Saturday, the West’s leaders meet at JELD-WEN – the latest, weekly version of Major League’s Soccer Match of the Year. First it was New York’s visit to Seattle (Sept. 29). Last week it was Seattle’s trip to Portland. Now it’s RSL visiting the Timbers. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear there’d be another Match of the Year on the last day of the season.
But for this week’s version, LA’s certainly raised the stakes, particularly since they’ll be home against San Jose this weekend. Though the Earthquakes are certainly capable of springing a surprise, both Jason Kreis and Caleb Porter have to assume the Galaxy will likely win that one and move to 54 points. That means whichever team falls at JELD-WEN will be relegated to third, at best. With Seattle at Dallas (and FCD’s season over), the Sounders could also pass Saturday’s loser, leaving Portland or Real Salt Lake in fourth.
And if the Portland and RSL draw? Then LA and Seattle may be one-two on Monday morning.
The Galaxy’s season-ending trip to Seattle means Portland and RSL will have a chance to climb out of the play-in round (both teams closing their seasons against Chivas USA), but that doesn’t minimize the stakes for Saturday’s match. The winner will continue their Supporters’ Shield chase, claiming the inside track to the West’s number one spot and shortening the odds they’ll host MLS Cup. The loser will be left hoping for help from other results.