CARSON, Calif. — Playing from behind isn’t usually kind to the LA Galaxy. And with a 4-3 scoreline, and by allowing the winning goal in the third minute of stoppage time, the loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps is a perplexing one.
The Galaxy (16-14-3) had an easy road to the second place entering the game in third. Win against the Whitecaps — a team who had been eliminated from postseason play weeks ago — and jump to second place. Do anything but win, and take their chances in a Western Conference that while forgiving, could quickly force the Galaxy into playing all their playoff games on the road.
So when the Whitecaps (8-15-10) sprinted down the field within 37 seconds of the whistle and fired a shot on goalkeeper Matt Lampson, forcing a difficult save, the 25,903 in attendance should have felt a shiver run down their spine.
“I think we played so, so,” Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said after the loss. “… I think there is not a lot of difference between the teams in this league and you can never get a little time for rest. You have to always play every game 100-percent because if not, you can lose.”
Taking that further, it wasn’t surprising when Doneil Henry out-bodied defender Diego Polenta for the Whitecaps first goal of the night in the 20th-minute.
But Zlatan Ibrahimovic, in his best combination with Cristian Pavon on the night, answered right back three minutes later for his 29th goal of the season.
However, the only thing consistent on the night for the Galaxy was their ability to generate scoring chances, not finish those chances, and then give up possession as they watched Vancouver pressure them again.
The Whitecaps’ second goal was scored as the result of a deflected shot off defender Dan Steres and into the path Theo Blair. Blair, who may or may not have been offside, found the ball laying at his feet and tapped it to the far post. The lead once again restored for Vancouver.
This would repeat itself throughout the match — the Galaxy would level the game only to watch Vancouver find another way to score. But halftime would see the Whitecaps deservedly in the lead.
Uriel Antuna would score next for the Galaxy in the prettiest goal of the night. His fourth goal in his last five games, the result of a beautiful pass from midfielder Jonatan dos Santos. Antuna finished with a right-footed half-volley chip over a closing Maxime Crepeau in the 58th-minute and once again the score was level at two apiece.
The 64th minute would find Vancouver’s Tosaint Ricketts score their third, before the 86th-minute goal from substitute Chris Pontius.
But with Galaxy fans finally feeling like at least a point was earned, and with the team pressing hard to salvage all three points, disaster struck.
Deep into stoppage time, and with the Galaxy’s Polenta way up the field, Vancouver’s Michaell Chirinos would be played in by a streaking Hwang In-Beom for the game-winner.
“Yes, we risked it,” Schelotto admitted in Spanish. “Perhaps in the last 20 minutes we attacked more than we usually do because we wanted to win and we saw that the other team was defending us more than they were attacking, so we tried it.
“It looks like in the second half Vancouver changed their attitude a bit, and we tried to play on their side of the field, and we did, but we should have been a bit more attentive on the counter-attack, and know how to cut off the play in precise moments.”
It was the quintessential Galaxy loss. Becoming so obsessed with the offensive side of the ball, that the defense is nowhere to be found.
“Very disappointing, this is not what we wanted,” an agitated Ibrahimovic said after the loss. “We wanted a good ending to the regular season, and it reminds me of the last game last season, but we were not in the playoffs, that is the only difference.
“It was not a good game from us, totally opposite — a bad game right from the start. We had so many mistakes. We didn’t even deserve to get points from this game.”
If there was good news for Ibrahimovic, it’s that he remained just two goals behind LAFC’s Carlos Vela as the two battle it out for the MLS’ Golden Boot. But he’s clearly frustrated with how the team approached the match.
“Defense,” he said, “starts from the strikers. We all have a responsibility on the defending part. So if we don’t do good, it is everybody who doesn’t do good. We have to do better as a team.”
“We were too relaxed,” agreed dos Santos. “A team like that can’t come and score four goals on us. Not to undermine them, but we know we have a better team overall.
“Now we must learn from this. We are in the Playoffs, and we know these mistakes can cost you everything in the Playoffs. So we have to learn from this, and we have a lot to play for in Houston.”
The Galaxy dropped to fourth place in the Western Conference standings but are just two points away from both Minnesota United — who’s in second place — and the Seattle Sounders, who’re in third.
And with Seattle hosting Minnesota on Sunday — a day where every match in Major League Soccer will kick off at the same time — the Galaxy needs to win against the Houston Dynamo to guarantee at least third place. And if Seattle and Minnesota draw, the Galaxy could climb to second place — a position that would guarantee home-field advantage through the conference semi-finals.
But on Fan Appreciation Night, for the second year in a row, the Galaxy left their most staunch supporters dumbfounded.
The only difference this year is that the Galaxy are already in the playoffs. But whether they decide to enter the postseason on a high, depends entirely on the result against the Dynamo on Sunday (1 p.m. PT; SpectrumSN).