It took the LA Galaxy awhile to get it going, but their two goals in the second half propelled them past Minnesota United for a 2-1 victory in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs on Sunday night.
The win – the first playoff victory on the road for the Galaxy since 2012 – makes the Galaxy the only team in the MLS playoffs to advance over the higher-seed this season.
Sebastian Lletget scored the first goal of the night after a botched shot from Zlatan Ibrahimovic rebounded into the path of the 27-year-old who fired it into the back of the net.
The 71st-minute strike was Lletget’s fourth goal of the season and the second playoff goal of his career.
Jonathan dos Santos, one of the few players on the night to put together a solid outing, would find the back of the net just four minutes later.
Dos Santos, who got an assist from substitute Romain Alessandrini, fired a right-footed shot from just outside the penalty box that dived and ducked its way past Minnesota’s Vito Mannone for the game-winner.
Minnesota would claw one back in the 87th-minute thanks to an elegant finish from Jan Gregus, but the Galaxy would kill the game off.
The win means the Galaxy will travel to Banc of California Stadium on Thursday night to take on the Supporters’ Shield winners Los Angeles Football Club.
And that may mean that Galaxy Head Coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto might have to rethink his defensive approach from this game. Giancarlo Gonzalez started over Rolf Feltscher or Julian Araujo at right-back, and Perry Kitchen made his first start since August in the midfield.
Kitchen played his position well. He defended throughout the game and broke up many of Minnesota’s well-intentioned attacks.
Gonzalez, on the other hand, looked lost at right-back for most of the game. He tucked inside to defend, didn’t get forward into the attack at all, but still made some emergency defending that kept the Galaxy in the game.
But for a team that is said to rely on Zlatan Ibrahimovic too much, they did enough to get by without much from the six-foot-five Swede. Ibrahimovic gave away passes, looked out fo sync with the rest of the offense, and was barely a blip on the Galaxy’s radar for most of the match. It’s something the Galaxy should be worried about. Just not tonight.
Maybe some of that had to do with MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara, and perhaps that had something to do with Ibrahimovic’s age and the long season that preceded it.
Regardless, the Galaxy once again proved they are more than just Ibrahimovic.
And with the return of Alessandrini — who entered in the 73rd-minute for Uriel Antuna — the Galaxy might have something special to add to the field for Thursday’s match.
Alessandrini was rusty for sure, but he was also dynamic in tight spaces and added something else for an attack that was anemic during the game. If he could be a game-changing sub for the Galaxy throughout these playoffs, he might be the key to some unexpected Galaxy wins.
With one win under their belt, Ibrahimovic huddled the team after the game, still on the Allianz Field turf, and declared this was just a start. And indeed, the Galaxy are now only three wins away from hoisting their sixth MLS Cup.
But that would mean two more road wins in the Western Conference, and more than likely, a road win in MLS Cup.
It’s not the easy road most Galaxy teams have traveled. But it’s perfect for a team that seems to thrive on adversity.