Title Image - Brittany Campbell
Brittany Campbell

Galaxy back in the playoffs as Pavon and Ibrahimovic beat Real Salt Lake

Cristian Pavon scored once and assisted on the goal as the Galaxy clinch a spot in the post-season and win on the road for the first time since June

The LA Galaxy are back in the MLS Cup playoffs.

And that’s in large part to a heroic effort from Cristian Pavon who scored once and assisted on the other goal as the Galaxy were able to top Real Salt Lake by a final score of 2-1 on Wednesday night in Utah.

And perhaps it’s fitting that the Galaxy’s two-most influential players grabbed this game by the back of the neck and willed themselves to victory. Especially after a tough first half that saw Salt Lake have more of the chances, slightly more of the ball, and a certain amount of momentum heading into the last 45-minutes.

But it was the Galaxy who came out of the gates firing on all cylinders.

In the 48th minute, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was able to skirt around Salt Lake defender Nedum Onuoha to lay a ball off to a late-arriving Uriel Antuna. The 22-year-old Mexican National Team player took the shot on his first touch, and with goalkeeper Nick Rimando out of position, fired it toward an almost empty net.

But defender Donny Toia stood his ground and saved the shot that was hit directly at him while standing just a yard off the goal line.

The miss shocked the Galaxy for a few moments and Ibrahimovic could be seen remonstrating his disappointment. But the frustration didn’t last long enough for RSL’s liking.

That’s when a midfield header from Ibrahimovic fell right at Pavon’s feet. He then took the ball, toppled one defender, and drove deep into the box.

Then, in his last touch before shooting, he moved the ball away from goal giving him just inches to cut the ball back. Both the defender, Onuoha, and Rimando both got caught leaning towards the near post. That’s when Pavon unleashed a left-footed shot to the far post that snuck into the side netting.

It was Pavon’s second goal since joining the club in August, and during his nine-game stint, he’s added seven assists to his MLS totals as well.

Ibrahimovic, who would tally his 28th goal of the season in the 80th-minute, has scored 12 goals in those nine games as well.

But even Ibrahimovic should tip his cap to Pavon on the night. The goal that ultimately ended up winning the game was the product of the hard work and the technical ability of the Argentine.

For it was Pavon who outwitted defender Justen Glad at the end line, just barely keeping the ball in play, that led to the Ibrahimovic finish.

The Galaxy defense, who limited RSL to just five shots on target all night, did finally break in the 89th-minute. That’s when a recycled ball from an RSL set-piece was headed back in on a rebound by Onuoha.

Onuaho was barely held onside by Galaxy defender Dave Romney, replays would show, as the home team clawed a consolation goal back.

But it wouldn’t be enough as the Galaxy were able to kill off the final five minutes of stoppage time while surviving some close calls from a desperate RSL side.

For the Galaxy, a return to the playoffs was long in coming. The club missed the post-season the last two seasons as they fired two head coaches and a General Manager and set records for the most losses in consecutive seasons.

With this victory, the Galaxy will return to the playoffs for the 19th time in 24 seasons. Once in the playoffs, the Galaxy hold a 44-22-7 record with the 44 wins, and five MLS Cups both setting league records.

But the work is far from done for the club.

With their final home game of 2019 coming up on Sunday, and the last game of the regular season a week later, the Galaxy are still fighting for playoff seeding. And in the brand new single-elimination playoff tournament for MLS, home-field advantage will come to those that have the most points at the end of the season.

With the gutsy win over RSL on the road — the first time the Galaxy have won on the road since June 22 against Cincinnati — the club hopped over the Seattle Sounders. The Galaxy now find themselves in third place with just a point separating them from Minnesota United who holds the second position.

And with 16 wins on the season — the fourth-most wins in the league — the Galaxy do hold the tiebreaker over most of their Western Conference opponents should it come to that.