While Landon Donovan was helping the U.S. national team earn a berth in the next World Cup, the Los Angeles Galaxy's playoff positioning took a hit.
Los Angeles looks to get back on track while extending its unbeaten streak against MLS-worst D.C. United to nine as Donovan and leading scorer Robbie Keane return from international duty Saturday in the nation's capital.
The U.S. beat Mexico on Wednesday to secure a spot in the 2014 World Cup competition in Brazil, as Donovan scored the final goal in a 2-0 victory. He'll now turn his focus to helping the Galaxy (13-10-4), who fell 1-0 to Colorado last Saturday to end their three-game winning streak.
Los Angeles, which was missing Donovan, Keane, defender Omar Gonzalez and backup goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, slipped into third place behind Real Salt Lake and Seattle in the Western Conference.
Coach Bruce Arena said the two-time defending MLS Cup champions have to be on their game as the regular season draws to a close. Colorado and Portland sit only one point behind the Galaxy with FC Dallas three back.
"All of them now are important," Arena said. "There are 21 points out there. We've gotta win games, no question about that."
Having Donovan and Keane, who has a team-high 12 goals, should help an attack that was shut out for only the second time in 12 matches. They'll also be facing a D.C. defense that has allowed a conference-worst 44 goals after falling 1-0 to Chivas USA on Sunday.
United (3-19-5), whose 16 goals are eight fewer than any other club, are 0-4-1 over their last five. They have eight games remaining to earn another win to avoid setting the MLS record for fewest victories. Chivas holds the dubious mark with four in 2005.
"We just have to put it away and put our heads up and look forward to the next game," midfielder Luis Silva said. "It's a long season and we just have to keep on going. We can't look back right now and put ourselves down. We just have to stay positive."
Midfielder Chris Pontius, who scored a team-best 12 goals in 2012, returned Sunday after missing seven games with a hamstring injury to play 25 minutes off the bench.
"Coming in as a sub, you just have to catch up with the pace of the game," Pontius said. "I just have to keep on working on my fitness and hopefully next week I can put in more minutes."
With Pontius possibly at full strength and United also returning midfielders Dwayne De Rosario and Kyle Porter along with defender Dejan Jakovic, coach Ben Olsen is hoping to see improvement.
"We'll pick ourselves up," Olsen said. "We've got another game next weekend. We'll get some guys back from national team duty and injuries."
De Rosario and Silva are tied for the team lead with three goals, and Arena doesn't plan to take United lightly despite their place in the standings.
"I haven't looked at them extensively, but they're a team that's played better than their record indicates," Arena said. "And I would say that's the same case with us as well."
Los Angeles is 4-0-4 against United since a 4-1 defeat at D.C. on June 29, 2008.