The Galaxy is chasing history in the Major League Soccer playoffs.
No team has won three consecutive MLS titles, a feat the two-time defending champions can take a big step toward claiming Thursday when the Galaxy meets Real Salt Lake in the second game of a two-leg Western Conference semifinal series in Sandy, Utah (TV: ESPN2, 6 p.m.).
History, however, can be fickle. For proof the Galaxy need look no further than its goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, whose own date with destiny ended in disappointment just three weeks ago.
Penedo's Panamanian national team went to stoppage time in its final World Cup qualifier needing only to protect a 2-1 lead over the U.S. to keep alive its chances of reaching soccer's biggest stage for the first time. But in a span of 60 seconds, scores by American national players Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson ended Panama's World Cup hopes.
"Forgetting is difficult. I am going to have to live with that bad taste," Penedo said. "I try to learn and take something positive away from that. It was a tough blow."
But it's not the only blow Penedo has taken this year. Less than three months earlier he was named the tournament's outstanding goalkeeper after leading Panama to the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, yet that journey also ended in disappointment, with a 1-0 loss to the U.S. in the title game.
Penedo, 32, is playing for another championship, this time with the Galaxy. And even though no victory could erase the memory of those recent setbacks, Penedo said hoisting the MLS Cup next month would make them easier to accept.
"That would make me very happy. It would be a great blessing," he said. "But I still have to live with what happened with my national team. I wanted to go to the World Cup, so for me it's very painful."
In Sunday's playoff opener, a 1-0 Galaxy win, Penedo posted his fifth shutout in 10 MLS games. And because the semifinal series is decided on aggregate goals, the Galaxy needs only a tie Thursday to advance to this weekend's conference final against either Seattle or Portland.
If Real Salt Lake wins by one goal, the teams would play a 30-minute overtime period, and if the sides remained deadlocked, a penalty-kick shootout would break the tie.
A Real Salt Lake win by two or more goals, though, would end the Galaxy's season.
For Penedo, all that is just the final act in what has been a whirlwind year. Although he leads active Panamanian players with 95 national team appearance and has been one of the top keepers in CONCACAF for nearly a decade, Penedo had never played for a club in a non-Spanish-speaking country until signing with the Galaxy in August. And though his bilingual wife, Angie, has helped him negotiate the transition off the field, the differences on the field have taken some getting used to.
"I'm trying to get adjusted as quickly as possible," Penedo said in Spanish. "Here the soccer is a lot faster. It's much more physical."
And, he hopes, ultimately more rewarding.
"I'm very optimistic," he said. "I just want to concentrate on the four games we have left to lift the Cup."