Photo by Steve Carrillo

Galaxy Frustrated by good play and no finishing in loss to Sporting KC

Galaxy have one of their better performance of 2020 but still find themselves on the losing end of an exciting but disappointing match.

CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy will feel hard done by the goals they conceded, and most definitely from the result. It was the second time they took a difficult opponent to the mat and lost the match. But the warning signs were apparent even before the first whistle blew and the games are going to get any easier.

The Galaxy lost 2-1 to visiting Sporting KC on Sunday night in front of more than 23,000 people. Sporting entered the game two points ahead of the Galaxy in second place, and with the win, jumped to a tie for first with the Seattle Sounders at 26 points. After their second consecutive home loss, the Galaxy remain in third place in the West, five points behind Sporting and the Sounders.

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez was a late scratch from the lineup as he was testing out a right calf injury that the Galaxy had been monitoring throughout the week. He emerged from the tunnel, ready to play, but went back into the locker room before warmups finished. The Galaxy called his subtraction from the lineup precautionary and will need further evaluation on the same calf he tore in 2020. An injury that caused him to miss two months of the season.

Ethan Zubak was called upon to start in place of MLS’s current leading goalscorer and put in a shift of 68 minutes but didn’t have much to show for his night.

The Galaxy, however, didn’t skip a beat without Chicharito while playing some of their best positional soccer of the year. The passing was crisp and deceptive, and Rayan Raveleson — making his MLS debut with the Galaxy — took over on the defensive side of the midfield and absolutely dazzled in a 90-minute performance that saw him split time between midfield and center back.

“Candidly, I thought Rayan was outstanding,” Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney said for the Malgasy’s MLS debut. “I thought both in the defensive midfield position, just his movements — smart and very calm — brought a certain composure to the game that we need in the way we would like to play. I think that position is, pun intended, pivotal in terms of helping us do what we want. And he knows when to clear space, when to use space, he knows where the ball needs to go, the range of passing, I thought his defensive presence was very good.”

But Raveloson’s time on the backline was just as unexpected as Chicharito’s late absence. Sega Coulibaly left the match after a spirited first 40 minutes from the French center back. His injury perplexed the training staff during the match and Vanney afterward.

“He felt like a shock almost in his body in that region somewhere between the groin and hamstring,” Vanney said. “And it kind of hit him, and then it kind of went away. But as soon as he started to try to run, he was feeling it. I don’t know if it was like some sort of outrageous cramp or if it was something that pulled, so [we’ve got to] take a look at it tomorrow to know what we’re dealing with.”

The injury forced Raveleson to the center-back position, where the Galaxy have grown surprisingly thin — missing Dan Steres (Hamstring), Derrick Williams (Suspended but available on July 17), Jalen Neal (stress fracture), and now Coulibaly (unknown injury) — but where Raveleson didn’t miss a step.

The Galaxy were buoyed by chances from Victor Vazquez, Sebastian Lletget, Nick DePuy and multiple chances for Kevin Cabral. But where Vazquez and Lletget seemed well within their skillset to finish off those chances, Cabral seemed out of step and pace with the speed and physicality of MLS. And with several opportunities wasted with the final finish, the Galaxy knew they were giving Sporting a fighting chance to steal the game.

So when Galaxy substitute Adam Saldaña mishandled a pass in the 81st minute, Sporting’s Johnny Russel jumped on it. He gathered quickly and fired off a dangerous shot that Jonathan Bond saved but then headed the rebound over the goalkeeper for his first goal of the season. It was the kind of letdown the Galaxy couldn’t afford, and it was one of the few defensive mistakes the Galaxy made on the night.

The Galaxy would concede a second goal to Khiry Shelton in the fourth minute of stoppage time, but at that point, they were already throwing everything forward with a hopeful air.

Vanney was understandably upset with the result, but also acknolwedged the overall performance from his team.

“I thought for the 78 minutes it was arguably the best game we’ve played all year,” he said. “I thought our ball circulation, our ball movements, our positional play, our relationships on the field, our chance creation on the field, I thought it was all outstanding.

“The part that we missed was to put the ball in the back of the net. The piece where you create so many chances. We have to score. Because it doesn’t matter how well you play…

“But at the end of the day, we want to win the game,” Vanney continued. “Right? We don’t want to keep talking about moral performance victories. However, there are some really good takeaways but we need to score. We deserve to take something out of this game. We said it after the Seattle game and now this is two home games in a row where we felt like we’ve outperformed another very good team and didn’t come away with the win so I want them to recognize the good things in the game, but also to be frustrated.”