You can tell what kind of mood Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena is in by how sarcastic he sounds. The more sarcastic, the happier he tends to be.
Measured on that scale, Arena was practically giddy after training Friday. His team has lost only one of its last 11 competitive matches and just three of its last 14 Major League Soccer matches, which sent it into Saturday’s Home Depot Center showdown with Vancouver three points out of second place in a Western Conference it has ruled for the last three seasons. (For results of Saturday’s match, go to latimes.com)
“We’re aware of that,” he said. “That’s why they keep those standings. If they didn’t keep the standings we wouldn’t have to even bother with that.”
And at the start of the summer the standings were just that: a bother. The Galaxy entered June at the bottom of the conference table, given up for dead with a 3-8-2 record.
“I remember a couple of months ago I had the media here telling me it was impossible — literally impossible — for us to make the playoffs,” Arena crowed. “And now you’re telling me I’m only three points out of second place.”
One reason for the turnaround has been the Galaxy’s defense. With Omar Gonzalez, last season’s MLS Defender of the Year, sidelined following knee surgery, Arena’s team gave up 21 goals in its first 13 games and didn’t post a shutout. But in the six games he’s started since returning, the Galaxy had three clean sheets and gave up just a goal one other time.
And after Todd Dunivant returned from injury three weeks ago, reuniting the back line that helped the Galaxy tie a league record for shutouts last season, the team allowed just one score in three games. That not only has the team thinking playoffs, but it has some whispering about the possibility of winning the Supporters’ Shield, which goes to the MLS team with the best regular-season record.
The Galaxy, which entered the weekend 10 points back of San Jose with seven games to go in the race for the best record, has won the prize the last two seasons and missed a third title by a point in 2009. And the Shield is even more important this season because it guarantees home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, including the MLS Cup.
“That’s not necessarily on our minds,” Dunivant said. “We’d love to [win it]. And we’d like to win out. But that’s not necessarily realistic. And it’s not necessarily the right mentality.
“For us, it’s just about climbing the table. We wanted to get in the playoffs. Then we wanted to get to fourth. And obviously you want to just keep climbing. Top three would be great. That’s certainly realistic.”
Especially since the Galaxy controls its own destiny, playing its final three games against the three teams currently ahead of it in the standings.
“We’ve been on a good run,” striker Robbie Keane said. “It’s important that we keep it going.”