Photo by Steve Carrillo

Galaxy avoid complete meltdown but still drop points in draw with Dallas

LA Galaxy goals from Chicharito and Lletget show a tale of two halves for the home team.

CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy (13-11-7; 46 pts.) avoided disaster on Saturday night, but just barely.

Coming from behind to score twice in the final 25 minutes of the match to draw level with visiting FC Dallas (6-14-11; 31 pts.) was critical to the Galaxy’s playoff hopes, but there’s rising concern that the Galaxy are flirting with danger.

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez scored his 13th goal of the season after Dallas was judged to have handled the ball inside the penalty box in the 65th-minute. Chicharito grabbed the ball from substitute Dejan Joveljić and then proceeded to slot it into the opposite corner of a diving Dallas goalkeeper, Jimmy Maurer.

But the best move of the night saw substitutes Sebastian Lletget and Samuel Grands combine to open space for Lletget’s late run. The 29-year-old US Men’s National Team midfielder karate-kicked Grandsir’s stinging cross into the back of the net to draw the Galaxy level in the 83rd minute and net just his second goal of the season.

However, referee Baldomero Toledo — officiating his 300th match in MLS — would watch the second half boil over. And would take a considerable amount of time just before the 90th minute to rescind a red card he issued to Ema Twumasi before issuing a yellow card for slapping Chicharito in the face. VAR Kevin Stott flagged Toledo for a clear and obvious mistake. After reviewing the play on the field, Toledo surprisingly changed his mind about the red card despite very real contact to Chicharito’s head.

The review added seven minutes of stoppage time in which Dallas would waste more time before the match finally ended at 2-2 in front of 15,136 fans at Dignity Health Sports Park.

However, galaxy head coach Greg Vanney was more focused on the team’s lack of conviction in the first half, after the game. And called out the Galaxy’s lost points on a night when all the teams around them dropped points.

“Conviction,” Vanney emphasized when comparing the two halves. “We competed in the second half. We didn’t compete in the first half. We were second to everything. We were slow to closing people down. The ball was moving too slow. The first half lacked anything that looked like a playoff team that was supposed to be fighting for a playoff spot and a real opportunity tonight to jump a couple of more points ahead.”

Dallas scored twice in the opening 45 minutes against a Galaxy side that seemed uninterested in the fight. The visitors controlled the pace and play of the game, won every ball, got to every second ball, and kept the Galaxy in check for the entirety of the opening period.

Dallas would outshoot the Galaxy 6 to 4 and get four of those six shots on target in the first half.

The Galaxy midfield of Victor Vazquez and Jonathan dos Santos lacked bite. And poor passing and mistakes from defenders Nick DePuy and Oniel Fisher (playing for the suspended Julian Araujo) cost the Galaxy more than once. There was no progress in the midfield, and Vanney switched the personnel for the second half by bringing in Lletget and Grandsir.

The move forced the Galaxy to play more direct and even more “reckless,” according to Vanney.

“I think we’ll talk about this probably after most games,” he said about the team’s vertical passing. “It’s going to be the difference between us being goal dangerous and not being goal dangerous. It’s how vertical we run, how vertical we pass, how much we’re willing to threaten the space behind the opposition.

“You know, how much we’re willing to play between lines and build speed and momentum and all these kinds of things. And so, in the second half, obviously, it was, at times, with a little bit of reckless abandon, at times, because you’re pushing for two goals. But the idea of ‘play-forward, move-forward,’ after you play a pass and try to get in behind the backline. The basic principles of attacking to break lines and to get into goalscoring positions started to come out.

“But again, it comes with conviction and commitment to making those runs. Sometimes you get the ball, sometimes you don’t, but you still got to make the run, and we started to get that as the game progressed.”

The Galaxy maintain the 5th spot in the Western Conference and are tied with the Portland Timbers (who lost for the third straight game) are in 4th place due to the “wins” tiebreaker. Both teams are sitting on 46 points. But Minnesota United and the Vancouver Whitecaps — one and two points behind the Galaxy respectively — are within striking distance.

And while the Galaxy hold a four-point lead over Real Salt Lake, who sit just outside the playoffs in 8th, RSL also have a game in hand on all the teams above them. Meaning they too could be within a point of the Galaxy once that game is played.

The Galaxy will travel to face the first and second-place teams in the conference in their next two matches. They’ll first travel to Kansas City to take on SKC, who have only lost on their home grounds twice this season. And Sporting is coming off a road win at the first-place Seattle Sounders. That game will kick off on Wednesday, October 27 (5:30 PM PT; FS1, FOX Deportes).

The Galaxy will then play the Seattle Sounders on Monday, November 1, before hosting a decision-day game against Minnesota at Dignity Health Sports Park.

It’s not unreasonable to think the Galaxy could go without any points in their next two matches. And that could mean they’ll have everything to play for in the final game of the season against Minnesota.

But another two points on Saturday night could have given the Galaxy more breathing room and a little more room for a mistake. As it is, the Galaxy will travel into hostile territory hoping to upset two clear favorites.

“They are historically very tough places to play,” Lletget said of the Galaxy’s road trip to Kansas City and Seattle. “It’s not even really about the surface or about the crowd. They are two really good teams. There is a reason why they are at the top.

“I think we are more than good enough to beat them; we just have to work on our game plan. We have to see what we can do better from this game. I don’t think it is about ability at this point. We are at the point in the season where it is who wants it more.

“We are in a playoff spot, but we want to secure it.”