Photo Courtesy of LA Galaxy

Galaxy red card papers over cracked foundations in loss to LAFC

Pipo Gonzalez’s first-half red card put the Galaxy in more trouble than they were already in. The reaction was nice, but the competition was far from even.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Losing to your cross-town rivals is never easy. Doing it on the back of some questionable calls makes the pill that much harder to swallow.

The LA Galaxy lost to LAFC on Sunday afternoon at Banc of California Stadium by a final score of 2-0. And while the controversies surrounding some interesting decisions make for the headline, the Galaxy never really had much going for themselves. Even the extra effort that was present for the club never troubled LAFC.

Guillermo Barros Schelotto brought back a starting lineup that placed Giancarlo “Pipo” Gonzalez in his second start in a row at center-back and installed Rolf Feltscher at right back. Jonathan dos Santos, like Felscher, returning from international duty, moved to the center of midfield. Additionally, Midfielder Joe Corona returned to the bench after missing the previous three games with a lower leg injury.

But the biggest surprise out of Schelotto was that Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez — who had missed every game between these two clubs since joining the Galaxy — was out with a hamstring issue that went undisclosed and unexplained during Friday’s media availability. Hernandez picked up the injury on Thursday during training, and an MRI could be necessary, pending his evaluation on Monday. His status for the midweek matchup with Portland remains up in the air.

But with Hernandez benched for the start of the last game, it’s questionable how much of an impact he would have had, especially considering how little of an impact he’s had throughout this season. He’s played just ten games this season out of the Galaxy’s 18 games played and has only four shots on goal and one goal to his name.

Reprising his starting role, the newest signing, Yony Gonzalez, played at the tip of the spear in what should have been Hernandez’s spot.

The game got underway on a cool and breezy fall day in Los Angeles with referee Kevin Stott keeping his watchful eye on the proceedings.

LAFC were on the front foot early and often. They manipulated possession and did their best to open up the Galaxy’s cautious attempt at a defensive stance. It was a nervous energy that permeated the Galaxy’s passing and led to nervy moments early on.

LAFC’s Diego Rossi pinged a one-time shot off the crossbar once it rocketed past Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann and the Galaxy fell further and more compact as the game went on. At one point, Yony Gonzalez was forced into making a defensive stop at the top of his own box.

But the Galaxy did break out and try for some offensive options. They just rarely did well enough to make LAFC nervous.

Pipo Gonzalez would ensure that LAFC had a more leisurely afternoon than they should have, however. In the 25th minute, Gonzalez would take down Rossi on the half-turn as the LAFC threat forward worked his way behind the defender. Stott would immediately point to the spot for a penalty kick and then issued Gonzalez a red card for Denial of a Goal Scoring Opportunity. But with FIFA changing the rules on this particular foul, Stott quickly rescinded the red card and issued a yellow instead.

But that wouldn’t last long. After a VAR review, the foul was brought back outside the penalty box, and Gonzalez’s yellow was changed back to a red card. And by all accounts, VAR and Stott got the call 100-percent correct.

However, the same could not be said for LAFC’s first goal and the deciding blow in this match.

After getting to halftime tied at zero, and after subbing in Nick DePuy for Yony Gonzalez in the 31st-minute, the Galaxy had settled into playing shorthanded. And the start of the second half even looked a bit brighter for the shorthanded side.

But in the 58th-minute, LAFC’s Danny Musovski chipped a ball past Klinsmann to open up the scoring on an end-to-end play. And end-to-end doesn’t begin to describe it.

Tracking back to the beginning of the play, the Galaxy looked like they had a legitimate argument that the goal shouldn’t have counted. Because when LAFC started the play, Eddie Segura touched a ball over the end-line near his own goal. Replays showed the ball looking fairly conclusively like it was over the line and should have resulted in a Galaxy corner. Several Galaxy players raised their hands and started moving towards the corner. But none was given. And during their protests, the ball was worked down the field and into the path of Musovski, who finished the play.

The call would be looked at by VAR, but ultimately, the VAR official determined there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude that a “clear and obvious error” had occurred. But painted next to a similarly close decision in the 83rd minute by VAR, both calls are clearly at odds with each other.

Bradley Wright-Phillips netted the ball in the 83rd-minute when he looked just inches offside. It would have sealed the game — something Carlos Vela would do in the third minute of stoppage time — and put the breaks on any spoiler role the Galaxy planned on providing.

The angle of the video, just like in their first goal, was far from optimal. But VAR flagged the play, issued a review, and Stott went to the sideline monitor to give his opinion. The goal was waved off, but it was neither clear nor obvious nor, at the very least, not clearer or more obvious than the end line play that gave LAFC their first.

Either both of those plays get overturned, or neither of them gets overturned. But Stott and his crew were far from consistent on the afternoon, and an already slanted playing-field — thanks to a total lack of situational awareness from Pipo Gonzalez — became even more uphill.

“Until I think the mistake changed the game, a big mistake by VAR on the first goal for LAFC when obviously with one less player, you are now losing,” Schelotto explained to the media. “I was surprised when I came in the locker and saw the play. When it’s very clear, the ball is out. So even the player for LAFC checked with the linesman, like what is he doing because he could realize that the ball was out. It was a corner [kick].

“I think the most important thing that changed the game was the mistake made by the VAR. Not the ref because the ref sometimes can make a mistake. But the VAR has to figure it out if the ref was wrong. It’s very clear that the ball was out. I don’t know why the VAR didn’t say that, because the ball is out.”

But on a night where LAFC brought on Wright-Phillips and Vela off the bench, the Galaxy had no such quality on their bench. Schelotto even waited until the 85th-minute, in a rivalry game, to make his final two subs of the match. Giving another five minutes to Corona and last week’s hero Kai Korniuk.

Anything good that happened on the field for the Galaxy over the 90 minutes came from Kljestan. His 35-year-old legs were making runs that defied his age, and his effort outperforming younger and stronger players. Julian Araujo also put in a good showing at right midfield — a role that Schelotto prefers to play him at when Feltscher is healthy.

Even Sebastian Lletget was working harder today. His ball-handling skills broke the Galaxy out of the LAFC press on multiple occasions. And his work-rate kept the Galaxy flirting with being competitive.

But in the end, the Galaxy would be outshot 27 to five and see LAFC hold nearly 65-percent of the possession. Galaxy completed just 67-percent of their passes, and their only shot on goal was from DePuy in the third minute of stoppage time. It was a header that was anything but threatening.

If there are positives from the match, it was the way the Galaxy started grinding out their chances when the score was still tied. It was how some players went harder into tackles and how the Galaxy defended as a team.

“I think it would be pointless to focus on the calls that went against us,” Kljestan said. “What I choose to focus on is our work rate. I think our attitude was really good, our mentality on the field. The way we battled. The way we tried to keep things tight and give ourselves a chance to get one or three points in this game was pretty good.

“The guys in the locker room are gutted. Obviously, [Giancarlo Gonzalez] is disappointed to have taken a red card, and the rest of the guys are gutted to have worked so hard for 90 minutes and given up a couple of soft goals. Everyone is disappointed, but I think the mentality we showed tonight was pretty good. So we’ve got to push forward, we’ve got a game in three days, and that’s going to be a really tough game. So focus on the positives and move on.”

But in terms of fielding a competitive team, the Galaxy fell far short on that. And the red card hides that issues more than anything else.

This version of the 2020 Galaxy isn’t one built for the post-season. In many leagues around the world, that would be punished by a threat of relegation and the loss of management.

The Galaxy will dodge the relegation battle, for now (MLS doesn’t have relegation), but surely won’t be able to bypass the changes that are needed in the offseason.

While the club sits just six points from the playoff line, they’re still in last place in the Western Conference. And if anyone was watching this afternoon, surely they can’t believe this is a team capable of winning anything more than a race for the golf course after the season.