The LA Galaxy’s journey in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs will begin at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Having already qualified for the postseason prior to Decision Day – their first such appearance since 2019 – a 3-1 win Sunday at Houston Dynamo FC ensured Greg Vanney’s side earned the right to host a playoff game in Carson for the first time since 2016.
LA are the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and will face No. 5 Nashville SC in Round One this coming Saturday (3 pm ET | UniMas, TUDN, MLSSoccer.com & app).
“We’re finishing in a good note, but the next game won’t look anything like the last 34. Now we’ve got to come with higher intensity than what we’ve seen through most of the season,” said LA's head coach. “But I think this is the group that, honestly, when I looked in their eyes and when I talked to them over the course of this week, they envy the challenges in front of them.”
The Galaxy’s form has been strong down the stretch, losing just once (5W-1L-5D) in their last 11 matches. It’s no surprise that it's coincided with the summer signings of both Riqui Puig from FC Barcelona and Gaston Brugman from Parma as the duo has added “a lot of clarity to [the] midfield”, per Vanney, along with many key players like Victor Vazquez and Sacha Kljestan getting back to health.
“I felt that we lacked connection and we lacked control at the middle of the park,” Vanney said. “And so, as guys started to get healthy, as we started to make the additions of Gaston and Riqui, and getting now ‘Vic’ and ‘Sach’, Daniel [Aguirre] keeps coming along, and Mark [Delgado] is having a great season.
"Once that group of guys in the midfield started to really come along, then we really started to find our consistency, our balance, our control, the things that we need to play the way we ultimately want to play, and be successful.”
Of course, another major key to the Galaxy's hopes for a first MLS Cup title since 2014 lies within the play of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. The Mexican striker, finally set to experience the playoffs since arriving in Southern California in 2020, has scored four times in the club’s last four matches, including the eventual match-winner against Houston on Sunday. Chicharito has a team-leading 18g/2a on the year.
“Javi benefits from us when we can play with speed, and we can play with tempo, when we can get behind the backline and create some space for his movements," Vanney said. "And obviously when you get a striker who’s in form, that’s a wonderful thing."
Now, LA have their first home playoff game since 2016. It's also significant because a victory against Nashville would set up a highly-anticipated Western Conference Semifinal showdown, an El Trafico meeting against Supporters' Shield winners LAFC at Banc of California Stadium on Oct. 20.
That's only if LA take care of business in front of what should be a raucous home crowd, though.
“After all [that’s] gone on in the season, we’ve got a home game in our stadium with the next game on the line, so we’re really looking forward to it,” Vanney said. “Our fans are excited about it, I’m sure, and our guys are excited to be in front of them for this one.”