Last year, the Los Angeles Galaxy won the Supporters' Shield and went on to claim the MLS Cup. Now they'll try to put an early end to the San Jose Earthquakes' hopes of doing the same.
The league's most explosive offenses begin a Western Conference semifinal matchup Sunday night when Los Angeles takes on San Jose.
This match marks the first time the Galaxy have hosted the opener of a two-leg aggregate goal series since 2005, when they ultimately upset the Earthquakes on their way to the second of three MLS Cups. This time, Los Angeles is the defending champion but an underdog again as San Jose seeks its first title since 2003.
The teams will meet again Wednesday night at San Jose, with the aggregate winner of the two matches advancing to the conference championship against either Real Salt Lake or the Seattle Sounders FC.
"I said it from day one, no matter what LA's record is, they are the defending champion and someone has to knock them off," Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch told the team's official website. "At the end of the day, it's just another step in the direction of where we want to go and that is how we are looking at it as a team."
Winners of the Supporters' Shield for finishing with the league's best record (19-6-9), the Earthquakes feature an attack that led MLS with 72 goals. Los Angeles ranked second with 59 and hasn't been shut out in 11 consecutive league matches, going 7-1-3. San Jose has been blanked just twice all season.
The clubs combined for 16 goals in three regular-season meetings, with San Jose going 2-0-1 and posting a 3-2 victory May 23 in the only matchup at The Home Depot Center. Most recently, the teams played to a 2-2 draw Oct. 21.
The Earthquakes trailed by two goals in both victories and came back twice from one-goal deficits to salvage the tie. San Jose's Chris Wondolowski, who tied an MLS single-season record with 27 goals, tallied two scores in the three games.
"We've played the Galaxy three times and every game has been very good," defender Justin Morrow said. " ... I think to beat them this time, we can't give up goals. It will be different in the playoffs. We have come back all season."
The Galaxy are fresh off a 2-1 comeback win over Vancouver in a knockout playoff match Thursday. Mike Magee provided the tying goal in the 69th minute, and London Donovan added to his league record with his 21st career postseason goal in the 73rd minute.
San Jose hasn't played since closing the regular season with a 1-1 draw in Portland last Saturday.
"They have the Supporters' Shield, so they're pushing for it, but we're the defending MLS Cup champions and we have a lot of pride with that," Los Angeles defender Todd Dunivant told the team's official website. "There's no doubt that we want to see ourselves back in that position again."
The Galaxy posted just two wins over the teams' last 11 meetings, with both victories coming at home. They've won nine of 10 home games across all competitions, scoring 26 goals.
The Earthquakes had a league-high nine road wins this year. They had been 0-4-1 in their previous five road games versus Los Angeles before the victory in May.
Alan Gordon scored the winner in stoppage time of that game, and it's possible he will return after missing four weeks with a sprained ankle. Gordon, second on San Jose with 13 goals, is listed as questionable.