It's do-or-die for the LA Galaxy. It's win or else.
It may have been that way before but now that the Galaxy picked up Robbie Keane, it's definitely that way now.
Anything less than an MLS Cup victory will be a massive failure, particularly when it looks as if the Galaxy will have home-field advantage all the way through, from the first round of the playoffs to MLS Cup itself as it's at Home Depot Center this year.
What happens then if the Galaxy fall short? What if Seattle or FC Dallas or, as has been the norm the last couple of years, a team comes from out of nowhere and winds up hoisting the MLS Cup in late November?
Who would pay the price?
This team is a solid roster, from the quality that is on top with Landon Donovan, David Beckham and now Keane, to the standout younger players in Juninho and Omar Gonzalez, to the rock-solid stability found in veterans such as Todd Dunivant and Gregg Berhalter and the steady contributions from the likes of Mike Magee and Josh Saunders. This roster is talented, deep and a good mix of veterans and youth.
Can't blow up the roster, can you? Perhaps Beckham's contract situation might give the team an easy out in case of failure - change the direction of the team somewhat by getting rid of Beckham and bringing someone as influential (on the field anyway) as him.
But an even more drastic change? How about firing Bruce Arena? Is that even an option?
Management is making it clear - no excuses. Players themselves have said the same thing.
"You see how much our ownership group is willing to put into it – they’re putting all their resources behind us," Todd Dunivant said after Keane's first practice. "There are no excuses. We’ve got to go out and do our job."
The Galaxy have been close now for two years, and another close-but-no-championship-cigar would be disastrous. I picture management saying "What the hell do we need to do??" in some closed-door meeting if the Galaxy don't win MLS Cup.
Would making a change at coach be the answer?
Now, this isn't a team afraid of making such moves. Sigi Schmid was fired in 2004 with the Galaxy in first place in August. Octavio Zambrano was fired five games into the 1999 season, one year removed from having coached one of the best teams in MLS history (the Galaxy went on to reach MLS Cup 99 but lost to DC United).
There is a precedent with the Galaxy that winning teams doesn't always equate to job stability.
Arena may be different though. After all, he was able to bring some stability to what had turned into a cesspool of a club in 2008. He took the team from worst to first in one season and with him the club has been a force in MLS.
But without a championship this year, in particular this year as the game is at Home Depot Center and Beckham's in the final year of his contract, will management take their frustrations out on Arena?
While management certainly acts as if MLS Cup is a foregone conclusion now - Tim Leiweke was particularly brash and arrogant at Keane's introductory event - MLS history has shown that it's anything but. More than half of the teams in the league now will reach the playoffs and one of the teams that barely got in will certainly look to make a run. It could be Chivas, DC United, Houston or someone else who has shown massive flaws during the season yet gets hot at the right time.
The road will be a challenge no matter who is in the Galaxy's way, no matter how strong the Galaxy finish the season.
Now, I don't necessarily agree with placing the blame on Arena. He's done well to build a strong team in a relatively short amount of time. But it's clear that management expects and demands a championship this season, and not just the Supporters' Shield. Say what you will about what means more and what's more of an accomplishment but MLS Cup is the trophy ownership wants.
And if the Galaxy comes up short, who will take the fall?