The LA Galaxy look ahead to a Seattle side that could be getting some game-changers back.
LA Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney is all about meeting challenges, and he certainly has a doozy in front of him and his team as the MLS regular season winds down to its final games.
His five-time MLS Cup champions have been faltering of late, with just two victories in their last 13 games (2-7-4), but surprisingly there is some hope. In fact, they can clinch a postseason berth with a victory over Seattle on Monday at Lumen Field (7 p.m., TUDN, Twitter) along with a Minnesota loss or tie against Sporting Kansas City and an LAFC loss or tie against Vancouver.
The Galaxy, who close out the regular season at home against Minnesota on Nov. 7, currently are sixth in the West at 13-12-7 for 46 points, just one point ahead of the playoff cutline. Real Salt Lake and fast-charging Vancouver have 45 points with LAFC at 44. Seattle, meanwhile, is 17-8-7 for 58 points along with Sporting Kansas City.
“It will be a question for us also to see how far we’ve grown since the beginning of the year when we first played there,” he said, referring to a 3-0 loss at Seattle on May 2. “I think it sets up as a great game for our group and a real challenge, and we just need to focus on us.”
Vanney, who is expected to welcome back striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez from a brief illness — not COVID-related, Vanney pointed out — that kept the team’s leading scorer out of Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City, said the Galaxy must raise their level of play.
That’s easier said than done if recent results are any indication.
“We have to be able to play better soccer against these better teams,” he said. “We’re not really a team built to sustain long, defensive stretches and get a 0-0 draw or win 1-0. Our teams is built more in the moment … we’ve got to have possession, we’ve got to build attacks, we’ve got to finish attacks, which requires us to play good soccer and be good with the ball, which we weren’t the other night.
“I think the group is in a good spot, I think they really see the opportunity in front of them and I think they’re excited.”
The Galaxy will be facing a Sounders team preparing for its 13th consecutive postseason appearance but has been struggling of late, with three losses in their last four games. Reinforcements, however, are on the way. Jordan Morris, who has missed the entire season after suffering knee ligament damage in February while on a loan spell with Welsh side Swansea City, could see some playing time. Raul Ruidiaz, who leads with 16 goals, has recovered from a sore hamstring but might see limited minutes.
Nicolas Lodeiro just returned from a knee injury and has made only eight appearances this season. He’s also yet to score a goal. Fredy Montero and Cristian Roldan each have six goals.
The Galaxy, by the way, have not won in Seattle since Robbie Keane scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory on July 9, 2016. That’s a span of 1,941 days. Since then the Galaxy are 1-4-4 overall in the series with their conference rival.
Vanney scoffed at the notion that the Sounders have been struggling recently.
“I’m not sure I buy into too much of they’re in a tough stretch,” he said. “it’s a super-experienced team that’s been through a lot of big games who understand a lot about who they are. They have difference-makers.
“Look, they wouldn’t be sitting in the position they are without Ruidiaz. He’s been an assassin all year, scoring goals left and right. If he’s on the field, he’s for sure a guy you have to know where he’s at all moments, and nothing is safe with him. For me, he’s as dangerous a striker as the league has because of his single-mindedness of putting the ball in the back of the net. I think Cristian Roldan has had a fantastic year. Montero is another guy who with two chances he’s going to score one or two goals. Joao Paulo (Mior) is an MVP-type candidate midfielder, too.
“It’s a great challenge for us,” Vanney continued. “Obviously there’s a lot on the line for us, but this is why you’re a professional player. You have to envy these opportunities, these games, these moments and step up to the occasion.”
— Vanney said Hernandez is back in full training and appears to be a sure thing to play Monday in Seattle.
“He’s healthy, he’s fine,” he said. “Fitness-wise, he’s over the primary part of the sickness, just trying to get his energy levels and his fitness levels because he had a couple of days where he was under the weather.
“He trained today, he’ll train the next couple of days and is feeling a lot better.”
The status of left back Jorge Villafaña, who has not played since Sept. 26 because of a bone bruise in his left knee, was not nearly as clear-cut. He has returned to training, but Vanney did not pronounce him ready to return to the starting lineup.
“He’s been building into the training environment, building his fitness,” Vanney said. “He’s getting closer, but he’s still in a phase where we’re having to manage it. He’s not exactly where we’d like him to be, but he feels a lot better. He feels a lot more confident.
“If he’s still feeling great he could be involved potentially as we go through this stretch.”
— Vanney agreed with the idea that there are no excuses for being unavailable to play, especially with so much on the line.
“Everyone who is out on the training field, in our eyes, is going to be eligible to play one way or another,” he said. “Then we have to choose who fits together best for the game plan to get a result there and who is ready to go.
“It’s all hands on deck now at the end as we go into these last two games.”