LA Galaxy on course for all-time MLS greatness with stellar season

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CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy’s 4-0 win over New York here on Sunday night was yet another tour de force by an LA team that had goals from all three of its top scoring threats—Robbie Keane (two), Landon Donovan and Gyasi Zardes—and is now making an all-out assault on the MLS history books with four games left in the regular season.

How do we know this? Well, consider that in the 19-year history of MLS less than one team per year (only 15 total) has finished the season with a goal-difference of plus-20 or greater. At its current state of plus-32, the Galaxy would be No. 2 on the all-time list:

+41 LA Galaxy 1998

+32 LA Galaxy 2014

+29 San Jose 2012

+26 D.C. United 1998

+25 Salt Lake 2010

+22 D.C. United 2007

+22 D.C. United 1999 *

+22 San Jose 2005

+21 D.C. United 2005

+21 Miami 2001

+21 Portland 2013

+20 LA Galaxy 2011 *

+20 Houston 2007 *

+20 Chicago 2001

+20 LA Galaxy 1999

(*Won MLS Cup)

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Given that goal margin is a leading indicator of team strength, it’s reasonable to start asking the question: Where does the 2014 Galaxy stack up among the greatest teams in MLS history? LA coach Bruce Arena figured to be a good person to ask, since he has managed some of the leading contenders in LA and at D.C. United going back to the league’s inception in 1996. 

“First of all, we haven’t won anything, so right now we don’t stack up with anybody,” Arena said with a wiseguy grin. “We have a good team. I think the ’98 team I had at D.C. United was the best team in the history of the league. That’s my opinion. Others can say what they think. But the quality of the players we had on the field was pretty remarkable.

“We had probably eight internationals on the field at times: Jeff Agoos at left back, Eddie Pope and Carlos Llamosa at center back. Our midfield was John Harkes, Tony Sanneh, Marco Etcheverry and Richie Williams. And we had Jaime Moreno and Raúl Díaz Arce as strikers. There was a lot of quality there.”

It was only the third year of MLS in 1998, and yet it was a fascinating season. Arena thinks his United team was the best in league history, while that year’s Galaxy could make an argument as well with its plus-41 goal-difference, by far tops in league history. And yet the Chicago Fire, an expansion team coached by Bob Bradley, won the 1998 MLS Cup (taking out LA and D.C. along the way) and then added the U.S. Open Cup for a truly impressive double.

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This year’s Galaxy got off to a slow start, earning only nine points in its first eight league games, but LA has averaged a remarkable 2.18 points per game in the 22 games since (losing only two of them). The team’s attacking trio is the league’s best. Keane, the MVP favorite, has 17 goals and 17 assists. Zardes (16 goals) and Donovan (10 goals, 18 assists to tie Steve Ralston’s all-time career league record of 135) are also near the top of the league production charts.

“Now that Landon’s getting us some goals, we have three guys that are consistently scoring,” said Arena. “We can score goals in a variety of ways. Defensively at times we can be very good. I think we’re a well-balanced team. We’ve scored the most goals [63] and we’ve given up the least in the league [31]. I think that’s pretty good balance.”

Arena was insightful in different ways on Zardes, Keane and Donovan.

On Zardes: “He’s got some good players that have helped him, notably Keane and Donovan. There are a lot of possibilities there.”

On Keane: “I kind of compare him to Beckham, where David was still trying to understand our sports culture as well as our culture, period. This is different than playing at Real Madrid and Man United and Tottenham and Liverpool [in terms of] the experience of the players, the league, the stadiums, all of that. You’ve got to buy into it, and when you buy into it, it gets easier. I think Robbie got it a lot quicker than David. You have to understand the animal.”

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On Donovan: His resurgence “is probably more related to his retirement announcement than the World Cup [cut]. He is fully focused on finished his career on a high note and doing all the things on the field that make him and our team successful, which hasn’t always been a priority as he’s been probing over the last couple years about where he wants to go and where he’s headed. Now that he knows that, he’s taken a lot of pressure off himself. He’s free to play.”

The last four regular-season games should be fascinating. LA finishes at home vs. Toronto, at Dallas and then home-and-home against Seattle, which also has 57 points and two more wins (18 to 16) than the Galaxy. (Seattle’s goal-difference is only plus-11 compared to LA’s plus-32, though.)

At this point, both teams could still get to 69 points on the season, which would set an MLS record.