CARSON, Calif. — On September 27 of last year the LA Galaxy traveled to the Lone Star State to face the Houston Dynamo with a full understanding that they would probably be eliminated from postseason contention regardless of the outcome. It was just 31 games into the season and the Galaxy, while they scored three goals on the night and allowed three goals, knew their season was over.
The club finished with a record of 8-18-8 and collected the worst record in Major League Soccer.
Flashing forward to 2018, the Galaxy have survived 33 games and still, somewhat miraculously, sit in a position to clinch a postseason berth after a feverish sprint to the finish that has seen them go undefeated in their last four games while allowing just two goals.
And almost poetically, with a victory over the same team that had a hand in their elimination last year — the Dynamo — the Galaxy can clinch the no. 6 seed and vault into the 2018 postseason. Houston meanwhile, already eliminated from the playoffs, will start their offseason with a plane ride home.
With kickoff times scheduled for 1:45 p.m. PT across the league, 11 games will simultaneously start and a whole host of scenarios will ultimately play out. The simple one is that the Galaxy, with a win, will advance to the Western Conference knockout game against the no. 3 seed. Anything less than three points will see the Galaxy be eliminated from postseason contention.
The two teams will meet at StubHub Center on Sunday, October 28 (1:30 p.m. PT, Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes) – a place the Galaxy hold a 5-3-4 edge against Houston, in front of an expected sell-out crowd on the league’s so-called Decision Day.
Interim head coach Dominic Kinnear has forced the Galaxy (13-11-9) into a defensive position never obtained by fired head coach Sigi Schmid. With a central pairing of Dave Romney and Dan Steres, the club has finally been able to stand up against attackers and thereby allows the third best offense in MLS to pull away from clubs.
“I just do my job,” Kinnear told reporters after training on Tuesday. “I don’t think about pride and this and that. They’re all professionals, and every day they show up on the practice field they should approach the game in a certain way.
“MLS,” he continued, “and everyone talks about it, can be a streaky league.”
And while the Galaxy are streaking upward the Dynamo (9-16-8) have fallen completely out of the race due in part to an atrocious second half of the season. In their last 17 games, they’ve won just three times and captured a result in only seven of those games (3-10-4). And with a road record of 1-10-5 — the only win coming in a May road trip to Chicago — they shouldn’t be feeling particularly positive about the last game of the season.
The Dynamo have also been outscored 5-11 in their last three games and haven’t won a game in nearly a month (9.29.18 vs SJ).
Despite those struggles, Houston is still very capable of beating the Galaxy and handed them a 3-2 defeat earlier in the season.
Leading goalscorer Mauro Manotas has 17 goals on the season while his teammate Romell Quioto has 12 assists. Their offense, ranked eighth in MLS, is not the problem. Much like the Galaxy, the defense has been the biggest issue even as they recently returned AJ DeLaGarza to the field after a prolonged absence due to a torn left ACL.
On the other side of the field, as mentioned above, Romney and Steres are likely to reprise their roles at center-back while Rolf Feltscher and Ashley Cole lineup on the outside of the defense.
For Cole, now 37-years-old, and possibly playing the last game of his career, the game will be particularly important as both his mom, aunt, and uncle will be flying in for the match.
The Galaxy may also get some help for the bench. Giovani dos Santos, who just returned to full training earlier in the week, may be available for selection and could come off the bench in this match for his first minutes since making a substitute appearance in the Galaxy’s 6-2 loss at Real Salt Lake on September 1st.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will attempt to break a Galaxy single-season scoring record as he sits just two goals behind Carlos Ruiz (24 goals) and is coming off a goal and assist in the Galaxy’s 3-1 victory over Minnesota.
And while Ibrahimovic is the reason the Galaxy are even sniffing the playoffs, Kinnear had some other thoughts on why the club has been so much better.
“No one’s spoken about it,” he said, “but the addition of Sebastian Lletget being healthy has helped out our team a ton. He and Jonathan (dos Santos) have formed a good partnership in there. I think he just makes the connection from the back to the front a bit more complete.”
Both Jonathan dos Santos and Lletget have seen some of their best minutes in 2018 within the last four games. And while Jonathan dos Santos has been the more steady of the two players, Lletget had his best game of the season last week.
The Galaxy are approaching the healthiest they’ve been all season. And the club is hitting it’s stride at the right time.
Now, all the Galaxy have to do is get by Houston. Something that no one seems to be taking for granted. Even while there seems to be a consensus they should be able to reach the playoffs.
“All I’m thinking about is Houston,” Romney said. “That’s the most cliché thing to say, but that’s how I feel. None of it means anything if we don’t do our part.
“It’s not over yet.”
Larry Morgan contributed to this story.