Can the LA Galaxy make a late push toward an Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs spot?
Thanks to a stirring 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Minnesota United FC on Wednesday night, the possibility is alive with six matches remaining, quite a feat considering some of the struggles they've endured in 2023. LA ended the night still 13th in the Western Conference standings with 33 points, but just five points behind ninth-place FC Dallas.
For Greg Vanney's team, it was a matter of carrying on belief despite falling into a 3-1 hole in the first half on Wednesday, with the Galaxy head coach and sporting director noting his team stayed the course despite some "colossal errors."
"I said to the group, 'You keep fighting to the last play, trust the process, keep fighting, we can get ourselves back in it. We had enough chances to score two goals in the first half, so there's no reason why we can't score two goals in the second half,'" Vanney said after the match.
"Ultimately, I think when you play these midweek games against teams on the road, you just try to build momentum. And if you can build some momentum, then you can get a little tired, and you try to just keep building momentum. And if you can, anything can happen."
While Diego Fagundez played the hero with his match-winner in the 82nd minute with Minnesota down to 10 men – the former New England Revolution and Austin FC player's first in a Galaxy uniform – the night belonged to Billy Sharp, who scored a hat trick (16', 63', 71') to pace the LA attack.
"He has a nose for being in the right place at the right time, and that's what a couple of those goals were," Vanney said. "Billy's goals were opportunistic, they were smart. They were getting into the right places for him as a striker."
The Sheffield United legend signed on a free transfer in August with DP striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez out for the season. He has turned into a remarkable late-season story for the Galaxy with six goals in as many matches.
Despite being 37, Sharp is showing he still has plenty left in the tank.
"Yeah, I'm 37, but I still got a lot of life left in me and a lot of goals," Sharp said. "So to get the goals tonight was brilliant personally, but goals to help win games is extra special. And to do it here in front of the LA Galaxy fans was special for me tonight."
Added Fagundez: "You saw it today he is a true nine, he gets those little tap-ins and sometimes we all wish we could get those goals, the easy ones. But when you're in the right spot you deserve it and today he played a hell of a game."
LA have another major opportunity to climb up the standings on Sunday: an away match at slumping Austin FC (9:30 pm ET | Apple TV - Free; FS1), who are currently on 34 points and 12th in the West. However, the Galaxy have a match in hand.
The Galaxy's margin of error is razor-thin, with dropped points potentially meaning the difference between a playoff berth and being left out of the postseason picture.
"These points are transitioning from one team to the next every single matchday if anybody wins, and if you lose, you can end up separated immediately," Vanney said. "And so it's tight. Picking up the three points obviously was massive. Maybe it was the difference in even us having a chance at this thing.
"I was telling our guys after: 'You just have to battle to the end. Because in our league, at this time of year, anything can happen at any point and you just have to try to to see it out all the way.'"