It isn’t now or never for the LA Galaxy, but it’s close. Very close.
The five-time MLS Cup champions sit in last place in the Western Conference, three points out of an MLS Cup playoff spot, there are only five games left in the regular season and they need to start winning now if they are to entertain any thoughts of postseason play. Their next step toward that goal comes in Sunday’s latest “El Trafico” when they take on their Southern California arch-rival Los Angeles FC at Banc of California Stadium (12:30 p.m., Ch. 7).
“I think we need to take it game by game,” Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said when asked if the match was a must-win. “Right now we need to focus on LAFC and try to win and get in better position in the table (MLS standings).
“The most important thing is to play the game.”
It would be nice if the Galaxy played it well, too. They were in the throes of a six-game losing streak and Schelotto’s job reportedly was in jeopardy before last Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Vancouver at Dignity Health Sports Park, but they’ve surprisingly had the edge on LAFC this season. Aside from a 6-2 drubbing at the MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando, Fla., the Galaxy have won the next two meetings, 2-0 on Aug. 22 at Banc of California Stadium and 3-0 at Dignity Health Sports Park two weeks later.
Schelotto was asked what was the difference in the last two meetings between the sides.
“I think we played very focused and everyone was working together,” he answered. “Every player was wonderful those two games.
“We know they have a really good team and a really good coach. We need to go and fight because we know it’s important to win the game.”
The Galaxy’s Cristian Pavon did not downplay the significance of Sunday’s showdown.
“We have to win because we need the three points,” he said. “That’s the important thing ahead of Sunday. We’ve played against them before. We know how they play, they know how we play.
“We just have to go out there and get those three points.”
LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said there is something unique in the battles between the Western Conference powers.
“I think every player looks at the matches versus the Galaxy in a different way,” he said. “We know that every time we play the Galaxy it will be a hard-fought match.
“The history between the two teams, even though it’s not a long history, has had some incredible moments.”
Both teams will be getting reinforcements. The Galaxy’s Jonathan dos Santos and Rolf Feltscher, back from national team duties (Mexico and Venezuela, respectively) and having gone through quarantine protocol, are expected to be available. In dos Santos’ case his presence comes not a moment too soon, with midfielder Perry Kitchen unable to play because of yellow-card accumulation.
LAFC welcomes back leading scorer Diego Rossi (12 goals) and Brian Rodriguez from recent call-ups to the Uruguayan national team, and reigning MLS Most Valuable Player Carlos Vela could get some playing time for the first time in almost two months. He’s missed the last 11 matches after spraining a knee ligament during the Galaxy’s victory in August.
The Galaxy’s Yony Gonzalez, who suffered an unspecified leg injury during the win over Vancouver, had no problems in training this week and should be ready to go Sunday.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, however, is another matter. The all-time leading scorer for Mexico’s national team, who has been a huge disappointment for the Galaxy with only one goal and no assists in 10 appearances, came off the bench against Vancouver and could be a substitute again. Schelotto said he and his staff would decide on his role after Saturday’s training session.
“We have a lot of possibilities,” he said. “We will decide tomorrow (Saturday) morning the tactics and everything for the game on Sunday.”