Title Image - Steve Carrillo
Photo by Steve Carrillo

Galaxy grind out win against Montreal. Playoffs within reach.

CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy had to grind out a win against the visiting Montreal Impact on Saturday night, but the victory now puts them – at least momentarily – into third place in the very competitive Western Conference.

But the 2-1 victory at Dignity Health Sports Park, with Goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Uriel Antuna, was hardly in convincing nature. Especially not after the 7-2 win over Sporting KC last weekend sparked so much confidence in the improvement of the team.

Goalkeeper Evan Bush was mostly to blame for the closeness of the final score on the Montreal side. Bush, who made close-range saves on Ibrahimovic and Cristian Pavon, finished with ten saves on the night and handled most of the dangerous positions the Galaxy continuously found themselves in with a certain flair.

“The result is really good, because it gives us three points, but ever since we had our last game with Sporting Kansas City, we couldn’t have that today,” Galaxy Head Coach Guillermos Barros Schelotto explained after the game. “But I am happy because the team was getting in situations to score. I think we defended well. You sometimes get the feeling when the result is just for one goal, and you could score more, but you don’t; maybe in the last minute you get nervous or feel a little pressure, because we needed to win today.

“But I am happy with the performance of the team, because I think we were looking to win, we went forward on the pitch, we tried, and we were able to. We played better than the rival, we managed the ball, we had a lot of situations to kill the game before the time, but we couldn’t. But I am happy.”

Ibrahimovic opened the scoring in the 31st-minute, but it was far from a conventional finish from the big man. With Pavon pushing into the box from the left side and taking his man with him to the line, he cut back a pass to Jonathan dos Santos at the top of the box. Dos Santos fired a shot which rocketed through traffic, first hitting Antuna, and then falling to Ibrahimovic who was both onside and able to finish from the six-yard box.

Referee Kevin Stott would need to go to the TV monitor to confirm the goal with both a potential offside on the initial pass into Pavon and a possible handball on Antuna being reviewed. But the review didn’t overturn the call despite one freeze-frame look seemingly pointing to Pavon being in an offside position.

The goal, Ibrahimovic’s 27th of the season, brought him to within one of LAFC’s Carlos Vela, and pulled him one goal clear of Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez (Vela would eventually knock in a 94th-minute penalty kick in his match to move back to two goals clear). It was also Ibrahimovic’s 12th goal in the last seven games.

“It was okay, I scored one goal and I tried to help for the second goal and Uriel [Antuna] scored a goal and we won the game and that’s the most important,” Ibrahimovic said while pondering his uneven performance. “I think I could have scored another two or three goals and I don’t know if I did a bad miss, or if the goalkeeper did a good save.”

The Galaxy would ride that lead until the start of the second half. That’s when a 48th-minute goal from Montreal forward Lassi Lappalainen would briefly tie the game.

It was a long cross from Saphir Taïder who wasn’t pressured by Pavon after a run forward, that would find the head of Lappalainen. And a lapse between defenders Julian Araujo and Dan Steres would see the ball go past Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham.

It would be one of only three shots on target for the Impact, making Bingham busy for only two saves on the night. But Montreal wasn’t great at capitalizing on their many counter-attacking chances.

The tie game would be momentary as Antuna would score just two minutes later on an assist from Ibrahimovic and Pavon.

The play started with some hustle shown by Pavon as he trapped Bush on a pass back to the goalkeeper. Pavon would poke the ball away from Bush in the direction of the near-side corner. He would then turn and fire a cross towards the far post where Ibrahimovic would head the ball down to Antuna. Antuna would whiff on his first touch, but in doing so, take the defender out of the play as well. From there it was a left-footed finish into the back of the net for the game-winning goal.

It would be Antuna’s fifth goal of the season and his third goal in as many games. Pulling him into second place on the Galaxy’s scoring sheet this season.

When asked about his ability to chase down Ibrahimovic for the team’s goalscoring lead, he simply laughed and shook his head.

The Galaxy would weather some close chances from Montreal and would also blow some of their easier opportunities as well.

Pavon was stopped on a quick counter-attack from Ibrahimovic which found his right-footed shot parried away by Bush in the 60th-minute, and Ibrahimovic would be stonewalled ten minutes later on a give-and-go with Pavon from just outside the penalty spot. Not to mention a poor miss by Ibrahimovic on a long pass from Diego Polenta that should have easily been the second on the night from the 6-foot-5 Swede.

But in the end, the three points were more than enough reward from a gutsy 90-minutes from the Galaxy.

Galaxy are awaiting the results from the Portland vs Minnesota on Sunday

Pavon seemed to be unlucky throughout the night, and Ibrahimovic’s finishing wasn’t quite up to his usual standard. But the overall performance of limiting chances from Montreal and creating a team identity is probably more important than making it look pretty.

Dave Romney, who started his second consecutive game at left-back, said as much after the game.

“We’re playing well,” he said after the match. “We’ve kind of found an identity these last two games, I think. Try to keep the ball, press a little bit once we turn the ball over, go quickly, stuff like that.

“It’s easy to do that at home. It’s easy to do that against two non-playoff teams. So we gotta show up against better competition.”

The Galaxy will need to recover quickly as they’ll play a midweek game against Real Salt Lake in Sandy, Utah against a RSL team that is only one point behind them in the standings and just two positions lower.

A win against their Western Conference opponent could mean locking up a playoff spot before the home game to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday, September 29 and before having to travel to Houston for the final game of the season on October 6.

But it seems likely that all three remaining games will figure into their final placement within the conference.