Galaxy forward Jack McBean, left, and Real Madrid midfielder Luca Modric… (Rick Scuteri / Associated…)
Just when the Galaxy found itself on a roll, four of its best players were absent when the club hosted conference rival Colorado on Saturday night.
The Galaxy entered the match against the Rapids at StubHub Center having won its last three games, lifting the Galaxy to a tie with Seattle for second place behind Real Salt Lake in Major League Soccer's Western Conference.
But Galaxy forwards Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, along with defenseman Omar Gonzalez and goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, all were away on international duty for World Cup-qualifying matches.
The four were expected to rejoin the Galaxy when the team plays D.C. United in Washington on Sept. 14. But for the game against Colorado, the Galaxy had to rely on young substitutes to maintain its momentum.
Forwards Jose Villarreal, who turns 20 on Tuesday, and 18-year-old Jack McBean of Newport Beach got the call to replace Keane and Donovan for the start of the Colorado game.
"We just have to come out with a good start and get some confidence early," McBean said last week. "With Robbie and Landon gone, Jose, myself and all the other players need to step up."
Before he left for the U.S. team, Donovan said, "We're confident [the replacements] can still get results while we're gone. I've said many times this team knows how to win when we're not around."
Keane, Donovan and Gonzalez are the Galaxy's three designated players; that is, they're elite players whose contracts are allowed to exceed the league's salary cap.
And there's no question that the Galaxy is a more formidable team with the trio in the lineup.
Donovan, Keane and Gonzalez combined for 16 of the 17 goals that the Galaxy scored in all competitions in August, both Major League Soccer matches and non-MLS tournaments. The exception: Villarreal's goal against Real Madrid in the Guinness International Champions Cup game Aug. 1.
Five goals were scored by Keane in August, which is why the Galaxy captain last week was named the MLS player of the month. Keane also leads the Galaxy in goals this season with 12.
And the last time one of the Galaxy's nondesignated players made a goal in MLS play was July 20, when Gyasi Zardes scored against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
With only eight games left in the regular season, both the defending champion Galaxy and Colorado are trying to finish among the top five in the standings to qualify for the MLS playoffs.
The Rapids entered Saturday's game tied for fourth in the conference but only four points behind the Galaxy, so "Colorado is right in the thick of it with us," Galaxy defenseman Todd Dunivant said.
"We're on a good run of form right now," Dunivant said, adding that despite losing Keane and Donovan for a week, "we have to keep it going regardless of who's on the field."