CARSON, Calif. – It was all on the line for the LA Galaxy. A simple “win and you’re in,” prospect that was almost too easy to comprehend.
But in the end, the game concluded in much the same way the entire season had transpired — they collapsed in the second half and allowed a much worse Houston Dynamo (10-16-8) team to score three unanswered goals at StubHub Center in a 3-2 loss that eliminated the Galaxy from postseason contention.
The loss, a heartbreaking way to end the season, looked furthest from the Galaxy’s (13-12-9) mind as they opened up a first-half lead on a Dynamo team that wasn’t able to account for Ola Kamara’s speed and finishing.
Twice in three minutes, the Norwegian put balls into the back of the net. The first coming in the 27th-minute off of Romain Alessandrini’s eighth assist of the season. The Galaxy took a short-corner and Alessandrini whipped in a left-footed cross that found the head of Kamara who nodded it home for the lead in some uninterested Dynamo traffic.
Then, in the 30th-minute, Kamara scored his second goal of the afternoon, as a ridiculously placed cross from Ashley Cole led Kamara to Houston’s doorstep. The ball was played in early behind the backline of the Dynamo and Kamara’s right foot was just barely able to beat goalkeeper Joe Willis for the second score of the game.
It was Kamara’s 14thgoal of the season while marking Cole’s tenth assist of the campaign.
And the Galaxy, through some solid midfield passing and possession, had a commanding lead on Houston.
In hindsight, perhaps the Galaxy would have rather they didn’t break at halftime. Because coming out for the second half, the club wouldn’t see that domination again.
Instead, What the Galaxy found was a rejuvenated Dynamo that held a higher line on offense and punished the Galaxy for their lack of possession and passing.
“We were a little complacent,” Galaxy interim head coach Dominic Kinnear explained after the game. “Our passing became shorter and a little bit negative at times.
“I think Ema (Boateng) had a wonderful chance at 2-1 which would have made it 3-1. Obviously, the third goal puts the game out of reach. But I think we put a lot into it.
“You would have loved to see the same energy come out in the second half,” he continued, “but we didn’t do that.”
The first Dynamo goal was scored in the 57th-minute as both Rolf Feltscher and Dan Steres were caught backpedaling against the speedy Romell Quioto. Quioto was able to twist both defenders before firing a near post shot that beat Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham.
But the second goal, one that must surely play with the Galaxy’s emotions, was created when Alessandrini fouled former Galaxy player AJ DeLaGarza in the box. Referee Kevin Stott pointed to the spot and the Galaxy’s lead had disappeared as Mauro Manotas launched it into the net.
With a little more than 15 minutes left to play the Galaxy found themselves needing another goal to make it to the playoffs and finding possession and chances lacking.
Manotas would score again in the 79th-minute as the Galaxy attempted to push forward on the attack in the hope, they could extend their season. But the damage was already done.
“We possessed the ball great in the first half and they didn’t really get a kick,” Kinnear said. “The only time they got a kick was when they broke us on set pieces.
“We stopped possessing the ball. And when we did, it was too close to our goal. So, we were inviting pressure at times. We needed better movement off the ball and lost our shape a little bit. They went a little bit higher, but I still think with our passing and our movement, if we would have been a little sharper, we would have opened up a bit better.”
The Galaxy even got some help as nine minutes of stoppage time was added to the game. And even while the club pushed forward in hopes of a miracle, chances to score seem to just miss their marks, and the timing was far from perfect.
In the end, the Galaxy were two goals from advancing into the MLS postseason. And while they possessed the sixth seed in the Western Conference for more than 70 minutes on the night, and would have eventually set up a knockout round match against cross-town rivals LAFC had they succeeded, they fell short where it mattered most – the scoreboard.
When the final whistle blew, most of the Galaxy players could be seen laying on the ground. Exhausted from the physicality of giving it their all, but floored by the emotions of playing so well down that stretch and coming up about 17-minutes short of their goal.
“Of course it’s devastating,” Kamara confided in reporters. “Since the Toronto game or after that, I really believed that we were going into the playoffs. And then you just see it fade away. It’s tough.”
Kinnear was more raw when asked about his emotions after the game.
“Yeah,” he paused with tears building in his eyes. “I’m a bit empty right now.”
“Even at halftime I knew the job wasn’t over and we needed to keep on playing because they have some players going forward that can hurt you…”
“We still had a lot of chances to score some goals,” he continued regaining his composure. “We were throwing everything forward. Guys gave everything they had. It’s an empty feeling right now for sure.”
That empty feeling will most likely continue in the immediate future for the club that doesn’t have a head coach and probably isn’t even sure that their leading goal scorer, Zlatan Ibrahimović, is coming back in 2019.
Ibrahimović, for his part, didn’t talk to the media after the game. Instead, he chose to leave before reporters were allowed into the Galaxy’s locker room – perhaps tipping his hand at where he wants to be next year, and perhaps just frustrated with the less than desirable result of the game.
But on the afternoon, in front of a sell-out crowd of more than 27,000 fans, the Galaxy fell woefully short of their goal while simultaneously reminding Galaxy fans and themselves just how inconsistent this team has been in 2018.