It’s not that Sunday’s match between the LA Galaxy and visiting FC Dallas doesn’t have playoff implications. It does, as the two sides jockey for second place in the Western Conference. But for LA the question’s never been whether they’ll make the playoffs — it’s a question of whether they can make a serious run at the Cup. The Galaxy haven’t scored in three straight games. On Sunday, against Dallas, they’ll want more than 3 points. They’ll want a return to form.
It’s hard to put a finger on exactly how we got here. After two headlining additions in the summer, names as big as Gio dos Santos and Steven Gerrard, the Galaxy quickly looked like a lock for the Cup. Scorelines totaling 5 or more were becoming a common occurrence in Carson, almost as common as the sellout crowds. But more remarkable than the bigger-than-life names LA had signed was how quickly they found a groove on the field. Gerrard and dos Santos looked like they’d been playing alongside Robbie Keane and Juninho for years. They found each other easily and often, linking up to make an attack that was both dynamic and, often, beautiful.
But that was weeks ago. While sellout crowds are still a regular in Carson, that run-of-play synchronicity simply vanished. Instead, we saw passing charts that looked more like this:
— Matthew Doyle (@MLSAnalyst) September 20, 2015
And yes, those are kickoffs. That’s how we got here: with the Galaxy not only winless in 3, but also scoreless. A team featuring Robbie Keane, Giovani dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes and Steven Gerrard can’t find a goal in 270 minutes.
It sounds dire, especially when you look ahead to LA’s remaining regular season games: Dallas, Seattle, Portland, and Sporting Kansas City. Those aren’t exactly lightweights, by any measure. Dallas sports the best points-per-game in the league. Seattle’s finally recovered from injuries, welcoming Clint Dempsey and Osvaldo Alsonso back into the lineup. And all four teams are (currently) above the red line, in position to qualify for the playoffs.
But there’s a bright side.
First, every team goes through slumps — even the best. If the Galaxy are going to go through one, better to do it now, with time left to work out any kinks before the playoffs.
Second: while there aren’t any pushovers left in LA’s season, that might be a blessing in disguise. Sure, it puts a damper on the Galaxy’s chances at the Supporters’ Shield. But it also gives them four good chances to tweak the gameplan and test it against playoff-calibre teams. If anything’s going to snap the Galaxy out of this slump, it’s a rousing win against the likes of Dallas (or better yet: Seattle).
Sunday is LA’s chance to find their form and start righting the ship. The back line will have to put a stop to Fabián Castillo. The front will need to re-find their groove — and each other — on the field. And in the process, maybe the Galaxy can remind fans and the rest of the league of what seemed so obvious over the summer: that they are the team to beat.