CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy captain and left back Ashley Cole will have his family, including his mother and first-time visitors aunt and uncle, in attendance for what potentially could be his final home game as a member of the five-time MLS Cup champions at Sunday’s showdown with Houston (1:30 p.m., Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes) at StubHub Center.
A victory, however, would give the Galaxy an MLS Cup playoff berth and prolong the 37-year-old’s stay in Southern California a bit longer. It also would provide the team’s fan base another opportunity to appreciate the impact he has had on the club since he arrived from Italian side AS Roma in January of 2016.
This year Cole not only has helped spark a late-season revival that has put the Galaxy on the cusp of a playoff berth that appeared out of the question as recently as a month ago, but he leads all MLS defenders with nine assists. The next closest is New York City’s Anton Tinnerholm with six.
Cole’s assist total — second on the club to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 10 — broke the old mark of eight set by current Galaxy assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson in 2002. The league record for a defender, by the way, is 13 set by Chicago’s Diego Gutierrez in 2000.
“You’re shocked,” Cole said to a reporter with a grin. “Thirty-eight” – actually, he turns that age in December – “and (bleeping) on fire.”
Cole said he was a striker during his younger days in London and became a left back after he was signed by English Premier League power Arsenal around the turn of the century. So joining the attack never has been a problem for him.
“I’m not complaining,” he went on. “I put it down to the team playing well and kind of finding me in the positions where I feel I can create chances for goals.”
Cole also said he takes no special satisfaction in having such an effective season at an age when many of his peers already have hung up their boots.
“I just try to help my team out,” he said. “People said I was too old or finished … I don’t listen to that. I just enjoy my football at the moment, enjoy playing on this team and kind of let the football do the talking.”
Galaxy interim head coach Dominic Kinnear couldn’t resist having some fun with Cole’s achievement this season.
“Ain’t no set pieces,” he said with a straight face as Cole walked by toward the locker room.
Kinnear, who took over for Sigi Schmid in early September, has been impressed with the veteran since he joined Schmid’s coaching staff as an assistant in August of 2017. Kinnear has been especially pleased to see Cole, once regarded as the best left back in the world and a veteran of some of Europe’s biggest competitions, arrive with no ego.
“He kind of reminds me of (former New England Revolution coach) Steve Nicol,” Kinnear said. “You look at Steve Nicol’s playing career or Paul Mariner (former head coach at FC Toronto). Their playing careers are pretty impressive and they’re just normal guys. He reminds me of that.
“You would never know he’s done what he’s done when you come across him, but you understand why he’s been so good when you watch him train every day.”
Dave Romney and Dan Steres arguably have had as much to do with the Galaxy’s recent surge as anyone.
That might be difficult to comprehend for many of the club’s cynical followers, especially since Steres is the oldest at 27 (Romney is 25) and each of them is in only his fourth professional season. But since they took over at center back for the embattled duo of Jorgen Skjelvik and Michael Ciani, the Galaxy are 3-0-1 and have outscored opponents 10-2.
Romney understandably has taken great pride in the club’s stunning revival.
“I’m proud of the comeback,” he said, “but it’s nice to prove to ourselves that we are good enough. It’s frustrating in a way because we could have been playing like this all year.
“It’s easy to mail it in when it seems all hope is lost. We’ve been training hard and got a couple of breaks at the end with other results, and it’s nice to kind of be rewarded for all this hard work to control our own destiny.”
Steres said it’s also been nice to prove their doubters wrong about the duo’s effectiveness.
“Absolutely,” he said. “There’s probably a lot of people that didn’t think we could do it after the way the year was going. But to be honest I think we’ve had the backing from our teammates and coaching staff.
“As long as we have that, that’s all that really matters.”
Kinnear said the duo has been in the right place at the right time.
“They’ve done well for us. Opportunities sometimes bring out the best in people,” he said. “I think they’re prepared, they know who we’re playing against and don’t go into a game blind.
“As you win you gain confidence, and I would say they’re confident when they step on the field together.”
Don’t try to figure out the MLS Cup playoff picture in the Western Conference. It’s an impossible task.
Sunday’s Western Conference schedule includes the Galaxy hosting Houston, FC Dallas at Colorado, LAFC at Sporting Kansas City, Portland at Vancouver and San Jose at Seattle. FC Dallas, Sporting KC, LAFC, Seattle and Portland all have clinched playoff spots.
Then it gets dicey, to put it mildly.
Real Salt Lake is sixth in the West with 49 points but has finished its schedule. The seventh-place Galaxy are one point behind, and a victory Sunday over Houston would knock out RSL and give LA the conference’s final playoff berth.
The Galaxy, should they win, definitely will be on the road against the West’s third-place team, but the identity of that opponent is unclear, to say the least. Sporting KC is first with 59 points, followed by LAFC and Dallas with 57 each, Seattle in fourth with 56 and fifth-place Portland with 54.