Galaxy looking to make progress in Western Conference

In the words of the Galaxy's star forward Landon Donovan, it's "crunch time" for Major League Soccer's reigning champion.

There are nine games left in the regular season for the Galaxy, starting with Saturday night's match against the San Jose Earthquakes, a state and conference rivalry dubbed the California Clasico.

And the Galaxy has no shortage of reasons to want a victory over San Jose in the game at StubHub Center.

For starters, the Galaxy entered the game tied with Seattle for second place in the hotly contested MLS Western Conference, eight points behind division leader Real Salt Lake.

The Galaxy needs a victory's three points not only to keep pressure on Real Salt Lake and keep pace with Seattle, but also to stay ahead of the clubs nipping at the Galaxy's heels in the standings.

Both Colorado and Portland were only one point behind the Galaxy and Seattle entering Saturday's play. At the end of the regular season, the top five clubs in the standings qualify for the title playoffs.

The Earthquakes, meanwhile, are next to last in the conference but are only five points behind Colorado and Portland.

San Jose is "a team that's positioned in the standings where they need to get three points, so we expect them to come out and be aggressive, be dangerous," said Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena.

The Galaxy also wants to avenge its 3-2 loss to the Earthquakes in late-June, when San Jose stunned the Galaxy with a pair of goals in second-half stoppage time.

That game "was really hard to take," Galaxy forward Robbie Keane recalled last week. And at the time, it was the latest example of the Galaxy's struggle to keep teams scoreless late in games, a liability Donovan said the club has been fixing.

"We feel like we've now gotten over the hump a little bit as far as [allowing] late goals and [poor] concentration late in games, so we want to keep progressing," said Donovan, who last week signed a multiyear contract extension with the Galaxy.

"The West is going to stay crowded and [its] teams are playing each other, so if we can put a few wins together then we can make some progress" in the standings, Donovan said.

And finally, the Galaxy wants to take advantage of having its full roster against San Jose.

After Saturday's game, Donovan and defender Omar Gonzalez will join the U.S. national team for World Cup qualifiers, while Keane and goalkeeper Jaime Penedo also will report for international duty with Ireland and Panama, respectively.

That means all four players are expected to miss the Galaxy's next game Sept. 7 against the Colorado Rapids at StubHub Center.

Twitter: @PeltzLATimes

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