Galaxy trying to find an edge

Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo is comfortable enough in his position to know he can't relax

Jaime Penedo was leading a pair of visitors down a narrow hallway in StubHub Center this week when he stopped short in front of a partially opened door.

"Let's talk in my office," he said in Spanish as he pushed his way into a cluttered and drafty equipment room.

There were much nicer — and cleaner — accommodations a couple of doors down, but Penedo, in his second spring as the Galaxy's first-choice goalkeeper, picked this one to make a point.

"I'm comfortable. I feel good," he began as he dropped into a rickety plastic green folding chair. "But there's a saying that when someone gets really comfortable, they relax. They lose their edge."

Penedo can't allow that to happen. So, at 33, he continues to drive himself, making sure he is among the first players on the field each morning and the among the last to leave each afternoon. And now he's decided to up that discomfort level by doing interviews in a dusty storage room where old jerseys hang beneath a mirrored disco ball inexplicably strung from the ceiling.

But few people have found comfort in the Galaxy's rocky start this season. After opening with a victory, Major League Soccer's defending champions are winless in their last four games, losing once on a goal in stoppage time and going scoreless over their last 267 minutes.

Penedo has been equally unsettled, missing one game to injury, another to a migraine and a third to international duty with the Panama national team. All that has transformed Sunday afternoon's home date with the Seattle Sounders from just another early season game into a crucial test for both the Galaxy and its keeper. That can't be a comforting thought for Penedo, who has beaten Seattle only twice in seven tries.

"It's going to be a fierce game," he said. "We both have the talent to compete for the championship. There's no doubt about that."

For the Galaxy, slow starts have become commonplace. Last year the team won two of its first eight games, falling briefly into the conference cellar. In 2012 it lost three of its first four. The year before that, the Galaxy won twice in its first six tries.

Each time the team rallied to win the MLS Cup.

Penedo's contribution to that championship chase this summer could be limited. He figures to miss two important June games to play exhibitions for Panama and he could miss three more in July while with Panama in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

And he won't be the only player to skip out on parts of the regular season. MLS is one of the few top leagues that doesn't suspend play around FIFA competition dates, so captain Robbie Keane could miss as many as five Galaxy games to play for Ireland while striker Gyasi Zardes may be unavailable for most of July if he is called up by U.S. for the Gold Cup.

"The international break is not good for our league. It really isn't," Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena said. "I don't have an answer to that issue right now."

For Penedo, the fatigue and divided loyalties that come from juggling league and national team duties is only part of the problem. Panama, under Colombian Coach Hernan Dario Gomez, favors a much more aggressive defensive style than the Galaxy. So Penedo, one of only two players to appear in more than 100 games for Panama, finds himself having to make adjustments and concentrate more when he transitions from one team to the other.

But if you ask Matt Reis, the Galaxy's goalie coach, that challenge seems to raise Penedo's game.

"I do notice when he comes back from Panama, mentally and physically he's in a better place." Reis said.

Just not a comfortable place.

During his club career, Penedo has played for six teams in five countries, but he had his greatest success in Guatemala, where he won four league titles in six years. It was there that he learned not only how to win, but also how to strive and sacrifice to continue winning.

"I'm comfortable. But I'm not relaxed," he repeated. "There are a lot of things I want to do in MLS. I didn't just come here to be here. I wanted to be a champion."

He accomplished that last season. So now he's set new goals.

"I came to a great team with really good coaches," he said. "Now I want to work to be better."

That work begins in earnest Sunday against Seattle, the only Western Conference team to win more often than the Galaxy over the past two seasons.

"This is a very important game," Penedo said. "With a good result, we'll take a big step up. And we have to win our games at home.

"That's what I'm thinking about now."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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