By ADAM SERRANO
The Los Angeles Galaxy have succeeded in every goal that they've set out for themselves this season thus far. Supporters' Shield? Check. Advancing to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League? Check.
On Sunday against the New York Red Bulls, the Galaxy begin their assault on the last item of their list, an MLS Cup title.
The Red Bulls won the season series with the Galaxy with a 1-0-1 record and are one of the league's in-form teams, having knocked out FC Dallas on Wednesday in their wild card matchup. With the Red Bulls boasting one of the league's most talented lineups, the Galaxy understand that they're in for a real battle.
"Going in there is going to be a real challenge," Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. "I think they've done a good job of figuring out their weaknesses and addressing them. I think middle part of the year, defensively, they were all over the place, and now they seem to have done a really good job defending. They're hard to break down, they're hard to score against, and then when you have the talented players they have going forward, it makes it really difficult."
Ahead of their matchup at Red Bull Arena on Sunday, the Galaxy's hopes were lifted as Robbie Keane trained with the first team during practice on Thursday and appeared sharp during an intra-squad scrimmage.
Keane was partnered alongside forward Chad Barrett, who admitted that Keane appeared like his old self despite training for only his second time since picking up an adductor injury while on international duty more than three weeks ago.
The initial injury timetable suggested that Keane would be out at least four weeks, but he may be ready to play a role off the bench on Sunday.
"Players like Robbie really don't lose their touch when they come back on the field," Barrett said. "They get their fitness back, and their touch is always there, which is nice."
Keane was not the only member of the Galaxy's triage unit that appeared fresh on Thursday, as Sean Franklin and Donovan both admitted that they are ready for action on Sunday. Franklin, who missed several weeks due to knee inflammation, has been training for two weeks and went 45 minutes in the Galaxy's defeat to the Houston Dynamo last Sunday.
Donovan has been suffering with a strained quadriceps that caused him to miss Los Angeles' last three league matches and limited him to just 29 minutes in the Galaxy's Champions League fixture against Motagua last week. With the playoffs on the horizon, Donovan believes that he is fit and ready to go.
"I feel great, actually," Donovan said. "My body feels as good as it has since probably the first day of preseason. Sometimes these things are a blessing in disguise. As painful as it is to have to watch, I'm eager to play, my fitness is good and hopefully I'll be able to play a part on Sunday."
The Galaxy head off to New York on Friday for the first leg of their playoff matchup against a team that has been labelled one of the most talented in MLS. Although Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez, Tim Ream and the rest of New York's star-studded lineup will provide a significant challenge, the Galaxy enter the conference semifinal with supreme confidence.
"We've proven we're the team to beat, and we are," Barrett said. "Is it tough to go to New York? Of course it is. Do they have a great team? Of course they do. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. We're not going in there expecting to lose at all. We're going in, we're looking to put it to them, and we're going to give them the toughest test they've had all year, for sure.”