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Galaxy chasing more than a playoff berth in Dallas

Galaxy midfielder Giovani dos Santos, left, moves the ball away from Seattle forward Nelson Valdez during a game on Sept. 25.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

Steven Gerrard said the Galaxy learned a painful lesson last season, when they plummeted from the top of the MLS standings to fifth place in the Western Conference in the final two games of the regular season. The slide cost them a first-round playoff bye, forcing them into a knockout-round game on the road, which they lost for their earliest postseason exit in seven years.

“Obviously the idea is to get in the playoffs. But the bonus will be to position ourselves in a better position than we did last year,” Gerrard said after practice Thursday. “We’ve got to try to finish the season strong and reward ourselves.”

Getting into the playoffs is almost assured, with the Galaxy needing only three points — or one Portland loss — over the next three weeks to clinch a postseason berth for the eighth straight season. The Galaxy can take care of that as early as Saturday when they play FC Dallas, the league’s winningest team, in Frisco, Texas.

But the Galaxy, who entered the weekend third in the conference, are no longer willing to settle for just that. To get the reward Gerrard was talking about they need to finish first or second in the standings, allowing them to skip the one-game knockout round and advance directly to the conference semifinals, a two-leg home-and-away series decided by aggregate goals.

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“If we could play teams home and away, you’d probably fancy us over both legs,” said Galaxy captain Robbie Keane, acknowledging that one more regular-season loss would make a top-two finish unlikely.

“There’s no room for error now in these next three games,” he said.

The Galaxy were undone by errors last year when they won only one of their final eight games, culminating with the playoff loss in Seattle. They go into the Dallas game having won two of their last 11 this season.

However there is reason to believe the Galaxy might soon pull out of their malaise. For starters they’re getting healthier, with last week’s game marking the first time Gerrard and Keane have played together since Aug. 20.

Midfielder Giovani dos Santos, who was named to the Mexican national team Thursday, is also 100% after missing the Galaxy’s last road game, and defender A.J. DeLaGarza could make his first start in a month Saturday, perhaps in place of rookie center back Daniel Steres.

In addition, Landon Donovan is quickly regaining fitness after a 21-month retirement and midfielder Gyasi Zardes, who broke a bone in his foot in August, could return for the playoffs.

There is one player the Galaxy won’t be getting back though, and his absence continues to haunt them. Punishing midfielder Nigel de Jong moved to Turkish club Galatasaray in August — a transfer he apparently sought — and the Galaxy defense has struggled without him, conceding 11 goals in its last four games.

“You’re always going to miss a player like him. He’s a great professional, great player,” Gerrard said. “But he’s gone. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.

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“Players can’t use that as an excuse. We’ve got to take responsibility and work without him.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11


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