CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy are locked into the only mindset that matters, as they get ready for Saturday night’s matchup with the Vancouver Whitecaps at StubHub Center (7:30 p.m.; SpectrumSN, Spectrum Deportes). It’s a mindset of belief — even when they know the odds of making the postseason are steep.
“We still believe we can get to the playoffs,” Galaxy midfielder Romain Alessandrini told reporters after training on Thursday. “We played well. Defensively we were much better; that’s why we won the game.”
The Galaxy (11-11-8), sit in seventh place in the Western Conference — just one spot, and one point in front of the Whitecaps (11-11-7). And if the Galaxy are going to make an unlikely run at grabbing the last spot in the conference, separation from Vancouver will be necessary.
The club did its job last weekend and is coming off an impressive 3-0 shutout over the Seattle Sounders on Sunday and saw an improved defense lead the charge in that game.
However, the defense wasn’t the only improvement. The Galaxy have gotten better across the entire field in recent games and those performances have spurred on a surge in confidence from everyone.
“I think the situation is more clear,” Zlatan Ibrahimović said of the team’s recent form. “The details are more precise. You can see the game, the way we are performing, the way we did it. We were dominating and we had stability throughout the whole game.
“I think they had one chance,” he continued. “If we have a day like that I don’t believe many teams want to play against us. I think we go out and they wish we don’t make it to the playoffs.”
The Whitecaps are also locked into trying for that last playoff position. And, much like the Galaxy, they’ll do it without the head coach that started the season with them. Making it the third Western Conference coach to be fired, the Whitecaps jettisoned Carl Robinson and brought in Academy Technical Director Craig Dalrymple as the acting head coach for the rest of the season.
“I think if we go step by step we can do it. We can do something great.” – Romain Alessandrini, LA Galaxy Midfielder
So while Dominic Kinnear will helm the Galaxy’s bench for the third game, Dalrymple will take charge of the visitor’s bench for the first time.
“I know the players supported Carl, and I’ve seen that in their comments,” Galaxy interim coach Kinnear explained. “He seemed to be very popular in the locker room with the guys.
“The thing you can’t get away from is they are still involved in the playoff chase,” he continued. “I’m sure they’re not going to throw any pity parties for what’s been happening. I think their focus is on trying to win games and make the playoffs, no matter who the coach is.”
On the injury front, the Galaxy will once again be without Giovani dos Santos (Quad Strain), Bradford Jamieson (Hip), and Chris Pontius (Groin) for the match. But they’ll get back Jorgen Skjelvik who was a scratch from Sunday’s victory because of the flu.
What Kinnear chooses to do with Skjelvik is anyone’s guess. With the defensive success of Daniel Steres and Dave Romney in the center last game, it would be unlikely that Kinnear would simply slot Skjelvik back into the starting lineup. But Skjelvik has only missed one game all year and has been a starter since the season began.
Add to it that four Galaxy players – Ibrahimovic, Michael Ciani, Rolf Fetlscher, and Skjelvik – are all on yellow card warning, and the selections could be more treacherous than Kinnear would like. A yellow card by any of those four players would suspend them for the match against Sporting KC next weekend (October 6).
With other important results around the league expected to influence the Galaxy’s playoff chances, most players will turn into scoreboard watchers over the next few games. And while a loss wouldn’t eliminate the Galaxy from playoff contention on its own, they would once again be hoping for other results to pull them back from extinction.
FiveThiryEight.com’s predictions have the Galaxy at a 21-percent to make the playoffs. With the Whitecaps at 10-percent and Real Salt Lake – the most likely Western Conference team to fall out of contention – at 82-percent.
Those odds shouldn’t let the Galaxy feel good about their hopes and dreams to make the playoffs. But that might put the club in a default position of fighting for each of their remaining four games.
“The demeanor has changed,” Kinnear opined after being asked about the team’s mindset since Sunday’s victory. “Obviously when you win the players have a great sense of accomplishment with that. Everyone played their position well.”
But beyond just playing well, the Galaxy need to have a collective mindset for these final games. And that all revolves around the players’ ability to win one game at a time.
“We have to believe and win the last four games and get into the playoffs,” Alessandrini confessed. “We’re happy because we still believe. We have to win the last four games. I think if we go step by step we can do it. We can do something great.”
Larry Morgan Contributed to this Report