For weeks now, the LA Galaxy have been living a charmed life. It’s a life that has allowed them to stumble in Toronto, dominate Vancouver, and draw at Sporting KC without having to worry much about actually being eliminated from the playoffs.
But when they step onto the horribly hard artificial surface at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon to take on Minnesota United FC(2 p.m. PT; ESPN, ESPN Deportes) and 50,000 or more screaming fans yell and scream at them hoping to throw off their game, the Galaxy will have only one option: to win.
And even winning this game guarantees them nothing but the chance to do it again next week.
The Galaxy (12-11-9; 45 pts), are currently on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. The Western Conference standings have them sitting in the seventh position and are now four points behind Real Salt Lake. And with RSL’s pasting of New England on Thursday night, the Galaxy would be eliminated with anything less than three points (the Galaxy would lose a tiebreaker to RSL if they finished even on points at 49 points, and would win a tiebreaker with Portland if they both finish at 51 points).
The Galaxy are on a three-game undefeated streak and haven’t lost since their high-scoring debacle in Toronto on September 15 — Dominic Kinnear’s first game in charge of the club after taking over for Sigi Schmid.
Minnesota (11-18-3) on the other hand, are coming off a 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids and dropped their previous game as well. And while they’ve struggled greatly on the road in 2018 – winning just a single game away from home all year – their home record is among the best in the conference (10-5-1).
Minnesota are being propelled, much like the Galaxy, by the success and driving power of one outstanding player. Darwin Quintero has scored 11 goals and added 13 assists for the Loons in 2018. And his speed and playmaking ability will certainly test the newly confident Galaxy defense.
But on the defensive front, the Galaxy will get Rolf Fetlscher back from yellow card suspension, and it’s very likely that a repeat lineup, except with Sheanon Williams on the bench, will find it’s way onto the plastic surface on Sunday.
And that definitely includes likely Galaxy-MVP Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Ibrahimovic told reporters on Thursday that he’d be available to play in Minnesota. How many minutes he’ll play remains to be seen, but the chances that they are significant ratcheted up with the midweek results not going the Galaxy’s way.
In fact, the Galaxy are so focused on winning this game they’ve decided to charter a flight to Minnesota instead of taking the commercial route. And being MLS severely limits the number of segments each team can fly via chartered flights, it’s a significant move to make with just two-game remaining in the season. Most teams wait to use their chartered flights until they make the playoffs.
The Galaxy will once again be without Giovani dos Santos (Quad Strain), Bradford Jamieson IV (hip), and Chris Pontius (groin). Kinnear told reporters on Thursday to expect Giovani dos Santos, and Jamieson back in training next week, while ruling Pontius out for the rest of the season.
On the field, Ibrahimovic will need to mind his manners. The Swede is on yellow card watch and could be suspended for the Galaxy’s final game of the season against Houston if he were to pick up another caution against Minnesota. Michael Ciani joins him in that similar position.
The Galaxy will need to keep Minnesota in front of them if they’re to have success on the carpet. And the raucous atmosphere will certainly push the Loons to be on their toes from the initial blow of the whistle.
The midfield pairing of Jonathan dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget will really need to control the tempo of the game and use Ibrahimovic effectively. The Galaxy are dangerous when they make runs around Ibrahimovic and make defenders choose between simultaneous runs.
And Minnesota’s defense, having conceded five goals worse than the Galaxy on the year, is in no position to pretend to be formidable. With even the lowly Rapids able to victimize them throughout the night.
But this all comes down to the Galaxy’s need to get all three points. Any strategy, formation, or plan will go out the window if the Galaxy concede an early goal, or give up an early lead. Without three points the Galaxy’s season comes to an end. And while the club has been wildly inconsistent throughout the season, they’d still pose an interesting and difficult test for any team in the league to beat in a playoff series.
Winning is the only solution to any, and all, of the Galaxy’s issues. And Minnesota should be ready for that level of intensity.