In preparing for the next LA Galaxy game, like many folks I tend to do a quick gut handicap of either the chances or the projection coming in for each match. Ahead of Saturday’s game at Sporting Kansas City, it was an easy projection: must-win for the Galaxy.
No offense to Sporting, who are normally extremely hard to beat at home and who I knew would come good eventually, even if only for 90 minutes, but they refused to lie down and battered the Galaxy 4-2. Chicharito gave LA a flicker of hope with a brace in the dying minutes, but Julian Araujo’s truly stunning (in a bad way) backpass handed SKC a late insurance tally and the game was well and truly over.
We know in MLS bad games happen, and they certainly happen on the road. MLS may be the single soccer league in the world where home-field advantage means the most, and for teams scrapping, like LA, that means road losses aren’t necessarily a huge surprise.
But considering the context coming in, of Sporting nearly racking up an all-time worst campaign by their standards and mired at the bottom of the Western Conference, losing five straight at home coming in, and the Galaxy, fresh off a nice but inconsequential 2-0 friendly win over Chivas midweek, needing a win to try and get above the playoff line, this was a bad loss, no way to deny that.
At present, with 11 games to play, the Galaxy are only three points below the playoff line, albeit with another team between them. The margin to overcome is certainly feasible, and LA can very much still reach the playoffs this year, the absolute minimum expectation for this club now and coming into the season.
But it very much feels like this is a tipping point for the Galaxy. They’re at the All-Star break and seem to be a bit rudderless. They’ll struggle, lose, get outplayed for a couple games, and then post a rousing win. Then they’ll go right back to struggling again. For months, there’s been no consistency, aside from a slowly creeping feeling of doom.
Jonathan Bond’s comments postgame were quite illuminating.
“First of all, I don’t know if guys in the locker room know how lucky we are to have a coach like Greg, who wants to play the way that he plays and the amount of chances he gives everyone, the patience he has with us, the opportunities he gives to the young players…” he said. “I’ve been a professional for 13 years and I know that coaches like that are hard to come by. No one wants to play defensively and play a long ball and just always go with the older guys. It is hard to come by. And to a point, I feel for him that you’re even asking that question to be honest. Before I came to the club, I know that the club had gone through a tough period. There was a lot of optimism when there was a change at the club. I do feel like we’ve got what it takes to change and win things here. We just need to apply ourselves better. We just need to stop thinking that we’re just way better than the opposition and we’re just going to turn up and our quality is going to show. It’s been 18 months now. We can’t just rely on quality.”
Bond’s salvo is the latest by veterans within the club, after Derrick Williams publicly called out his teammates on TV a few weeks back. That effort to get everyone on board worked...for a game, and then it was back to the same old pattern.
All of this puts a ton of pressure on the existing players, on Greg Vanney and the coaching staff, and of course on Riqui Puig, the latest splash signing by the Galaxy. The midfielder has yet to play a game for his new club, and he’s signed as a long-haul addition, but if the underperforming Designated Players continue to not produce, if the midfield continues to slow the game down to the point where they can’t break through their opponent, and if the defense can’t stop making errors that lead to goals conceded, then Puig’s arrival probably won’t fix everything.
But while there’s still theoretically a ton of runway for the Galaxy to right the ship, easily reach the playoffs and hopefully make a run come season’s end, it’s obvious they aren’t trending in that direction at present. This All-Star pause isn’t even a bye week, and LA will need to finally, finally figure it out in a hurry, or this is going to be yet another disappointing campaign for MLS’s most accomplished club.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.