CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy haven't won a game in Kansas City in more than a decade and have never won a game at Mercy Children's Park, and if they fail to end that drought Saturday, their nascent playoff hopes could be finished.
They're approaching the showdown with Sporting Kansas City as another in an extended line of must-win games, and after romping to successive 3-0 home victories over Seattle Sounders FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC, they're brimming with confidence that another three points can be theirs.
They understand it won't be easy.
“It's a stiff one,” interim head coach Dominic Kinnear said on the eve of LA's trek to Kansas on Saturday (8:30 pm ET | Full TV & Streaming Info). “First of all, physically, you have to match them head on. If you don't, they feed off of it and they continue to press you. So it's a 90-minute battle for us mentally and physically.
“You have to want the ball and you have to want to engage them and you have to want to battle. And win your tackles, because they try to come out – especially that first 10-15 minutes – and really put you under pressure, so if you're not ready for it, coming out of the locker room, it makes for a long first half.”
The Galaxy are 0-4-3 at Children's Mercy Park – all four defeats were by one goal – and 0-5-5 in K.C. since a 1-0 victory at Arrowhead Stadium in September 2007. They last beat Sporting at home three and a half years ago and are 0-4-3 against them since. To win now would be massive.
“We're talking about it all the time,” Sebastian Lletget said. “We're just, like, 'If we win, there's no stopping us.'”
The Galaxy (12-11-8) likely need to win to stay within striking distance of – or possibly overtake – Real Salt Lake, who have a two-point edge with three games to go in the battle the Western Conference's sixth Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs berth.
“We see it as must-win,” Ola Kamara told MLSsoccer.com. “I mean, maybe we're OK with a draw, but I think [we'd be] lucky if one point is enough. I think we have to win the rest, to be honest. That's our mentality.”
This has realistically turned into a two-team battle, between LA and RSL, for the final spot. So much depends on RSL's home-and-home series with Portland, which begins Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium (9:30 pm ET | Full TV & Streaming Info). If the Galaxy don't win out, they need help from the Timbers to catch RSL. The math is incredibly difficult otherwise.
Kinnear isn't thinking in those terms.
“Realistically, it's us and three other teams, I think,” he said. “Because you never know. Portland and RSL play each other twice. Seattle's got a pretty decent run, as far as their home games [and slate against teams that will not go to the playoffs], but you never know. We're trying to place ourselves as high as we can, and if we can get sixth, fifth, fourth – whatever – we're trying to go as high as we can.”
LA have a belief that was absent during a seven-game winless skid from the end of July through mid-September that all but killed their postseason hopes and ended Sigi Schmid's second tenure as the club's head coach. Kinnear has fared better in Kansas City than the Galaxy have, going 6-7-4 during stints as the San Jose Earthquakes' and Houston Dynamo's head coach, 3-5-3 at Children's Mercy Park.
“He says to everybody, 'Guys, you know what it's all about. We don't win today, it's over.' To put pressure like that is a balance. Either you can handle it or you cannot. And he did two times and we won both games, 3-0. And that is a lot of pressure.
“That, for me, is a good sign, because I like to give pressure to the other ones. And I like to have the pressure. Because the feeling when you walk out from the stadium and you win, like we have done, the feeling is better. You come home and you feel good, you feel better, so the pressure should tease you. That is a signal you to go up on your toes and do something good.”
The Galaxy have looked very good since Kinnear took charge last month. Even in the 5-3 loss at Toronto, says Ibrahimovic, who called it a “good” performance, “better than what we'd done before that.” LA has found defensive organization, a problem all season.
Said Lletget: “During the whole season, we struggled so much to [defend], we conceded way too many goals. Having these two shutouts have been huge for us.”