It was never going to be an easy road trip for the LA Galaxy. But it probably wasn’t supposed to be this hard either.
The Galaxy struggled to find any rhythm or flow from an excellent Sporting KC team that was rarely tested and rarely pressured on a rainy Wednesday night in Kansas City, Missouri. And while the Galaxy lost 2-0 on the night, the bigger story was the Galaxy’s stumble down the standings.
The big surprise for LA was that Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez didn’t travel with the team for this pivotal matchup. A team spokesperson said the 34-year-old striker was too sick to travel with the club for the match and that it wasn’t COVID-related. Chicharito has been available for just 19 of the team’s 32 games this season. And is also the team’s leading goal scorer having netted goals in four of his last nine matches.
In his absence, the Galaxy started Dejan Joveljic for the first time since September 18.
The result for the Galaxy was almost no danger on goal, a midfield that was disconnected from both the defense and the offense, and relatively consistent pressure from a Sporting side that had smelled blood in the water.
“As I said to the guys from the start, we weren’t set up great,” Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney told reporters after the game. “And then we felt like the whole game, we were trying to organize ourselves in a way that we could settle in and get more comfortable, get more of the ball, still be dangerous. Defend in a way that we were comfortable. And I felt like, for me, I felt like I was chasing the game the whole time to try to get us into some way that we could feel comfortable and still be dangerous in the game.
“So as I said to them, I appreciate their effort,” he continued. “I thought they worked hard the entire game. They fought for everything in the game. They tried to battle through the game. We just never really found our comfort zone within the game. And so I put that on me in terms of our organization and just trying to get us into the right spots.”
Kansas City had no such problems. Johnny Russel would score twice for KC and in many ways, the first one came just as the Galaxy were gaining their feet in the first half amongst a spell of possession that was truly their most dangerous.
But a poor giveaway from Victor Vazquez — who looked a step slow and not physical enough for the midfield altercations that were coming — turned a bright Galaxy break into a counter-attack move by KC.
Russel would end up getting the ball after multiple Galaxy players, especially center-back Derrick Williams, had a chance to clear the ball from danger. Instead, the attack shifted from the right side of the Galaxy defense out to the left side, where Russel would square off against Niko Hamalainen.
It was a mismatch of epic proportions for most of the game, and Russel was able to take Hamalainen toward the endline before firing a right-footed shot to Jonathan Bond’s near post for his goal in the 40th-minute.
Russel would score his second goal with just eight minutes left in the match when defenders Williams and Oniel Fisher — Fisher was a substitute in the 72nd-minute — failed to push Russel out wide while Sporting countered against four Galaxy players.
His left-footed shot curled around Bond and into the back of the net.
What happened between the first and second goals — 42 total minutes — should be a warning sign for the Galaxy because there wasn’t any reaction.
With Greg Vanney putting Kevin Cabral on the field to try and open up some passing lanes to move the ball forward, there was hope the Galaxy could generate some more danger in Sporting’s area. But in general, passing through the middle was stifled by KC, and attacks died somewhere outside the penalty box for LA.
The Galaxy looked slow and plotting and seemed to second-guess their positioning for most of the night.
“They pressed us with kind of a narrow front three,” Vanney explained. “Their two kind of attacking midfielders really tried to get up and get in on our midfield so it was hard for our midfielders to find space. It’s hard for Jona (dos Santos) and Rayan (Raveloson) to find any space and to try to find the ball. Victor (Vazquez), it’s also tough for him to find the ball there. Midfielders really just sought out our midfielders… And again, we just weren’t quick enough to find the solution.”
In total, both teams only managed two shots on target. But both of Sporting’s went in. The Galaxy weren’t so fortunate. And that stat shouldn’t trick anyone into believing the Galaxy were on the same level as the now-first place Sporting side. They were outplayed and outclassed for most of the night and were supremely lucky not to have been down by more goals in the opening minutes.
As it stands, the Galaxy will remain in a playoff spot for the rest of this week. But with games this weekend and the Galaxy not playing at the Seattle Sounders until Monday night, it could be a different story come kick-off time. At no point during the previous 32 games had the Galaxy ever been below the playoff line. But with just two games left, that is currently where their momentum is taking them.