TFC, Galaxy fight for playoff contention

Steven Sandor, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 6:56 PM ET

One ex-TFC player thinks he can give his current team an edge when they face each other this Saturday night.

“Going up against your former team is always interesting because you know each others' tendencies,” said Los Angeles Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant, an MLS veteran who played in 27 games for Toronto FC in 2007 and '08 before being dealt to Los Angeles before the '09 season.

“Hopefully, I can use that to my advantage being a defender. But Toronto is right in the playoff hunt, as are we, so it adds a lot of fuel to this game. Both teams really need a win, but the onus is on us to establish that we are a good team at home. That hasn't been our strength this year and that has to change if we are going to get into the playoffs.”

That's the thing about the MLS; the Galaxy are currently in the second spot in the West, in the top four in the league standings, but, thanks to the parity that is the norm in the league, it is only four points ahead of the Reds in the standings, who currently hold down ninth, one slot out of the playoffs.

Still, considering the previous two Galaxy seasons with David Beckham on the roster have been disasters, the team has raised a lot of eyebrows this season by transforming itself into a contender under former U.S. national coach Bruce Arena. And Dunivant has been part of a revamped defence corps that has been the heart of the Galaxy's revitalization, despite giving up six to FC Dallas last week.

Omar Gonzalez, the consensus pick for rookie of the year, has been a rock in the back, as has fellow first-year player A.J. DeLaGarza. Even though Toronto FC got a bumper crop with midfielder Sam Cronin, keeper Stefan Frei and striker O'Brian White in this past season's draft, the Galaxy may have done even better with its two defence picks.

And Dunivant, who missed most of last season with Toronto FC due to a broken ankle, has been a regular starter and stabilizing influence.

“Defense was probably our biggest tactical improvement this year, but getting the locker room right was the biggest difference from years past,” he said. “It was the first thing Bruce Arena said to me when I arrived in L.A. He wanted to bring in veteran guys and good locker room guys, guys that know how to win in this league. He's done that and you've seen the results.

"We also have a nice mix of young players too. Omar Gonzalez has stepped in and started every game for us this year as a rookie. A.J. DeLaGarza has played significant minutes. And we've had guys step up all year when called upon due to injuries, national team call ups, whatever. It's been the whole team that has contributed to our success, not just a couple guys.”

Yes, Landon Donovan still scores the goals, but the Galaxy have given up just 29 goals in 25 games, barely over one per game, compared to 62 in a full 30-game season last year, by far the worst in the league. That's right, the Galaxy have chopped pretty well a goal per game off the back end. And that's the difference between an also-ran and a championship contender.

“ When we defend in good blocks we are a very difficult team to break down, and we've shown that throughout the year,” said Dunivant.

So, while Beckham and U.S. soccer poster boy Landon Donovan get the headlines, the challenge for TFC Saturday will be to try and penetrate the Galaxy's much-improved defence. And that could be a trial for the Reds, who haven't scored a goal on the road since Aug. 1.

Dunivant, who was dealt for allocation money, was frustrated by his time on the TFC sidelines in 2008, but, now that his ankle is healthy again, he's been re-energized.

“I have seen a silver lining with the injury though; it reinvigorated me and made me realize how much I love playing this game. We are lucky to do what we do, and when that was taken away from me, I fully realized how fortunate we are to play this game.”


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