After being above the Audi MLS Cup Playoff line for the vast majority of 2021, and then the vast majority of Decision Day, when the final whistle blew on Sunday early evening in Los Angeles, it was heartbreak for the LA Galaxy.
The Galaxy played a thrilling, end-to-end 3-3 draw with Minnesota United FC. They knew they needed a win to ensure playoff qualification, but a draw could have been good enough if other results went their way.
As expected, it made for a chaotic day.
A game-winning goal deep stoppage time for Real Salt Lake against Sporting Kansas City, combined with the Galaxy dropping points to Minnesota at home, left LAG without a chair as the music stopped: They finished in 8th place in the Western Conference, missing out on the playoffs by virtue of having won one game fewer than RSL.
”It’s obvious we didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs, regardless of some stuff I’ve been hearing about VAR in the other game – which is incredible – but that’s for another time," star forward Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez told media after the game. "For now, all I have in my mind and my brain is that it hurts. When you give everything to something, it hurts. I’m very hurt.”
As Chicharito alluded to, the evening didn't end without a little controversy. The Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake match was going their way, sitting at 0-0 as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes. RSL needed to win to jump ahead of the Galaxy. SKC had a penalty shout, which would have given them a golden chance to take a 1-0 lead. It wasn't given.
Right at the death, deep into stoppage time, Damir Kreilach scored to give RSL all three points and put the Galaxy on the brink of elimination if they couldn't find a winner of their own.
Word spread of that goal just before stoppage time in the Galaxy-Minnesota game. The players knew they absolutely had to score within the six minutes of added-on time, though head coach Greg Vanney says that was the mentality all game and didn't blame their elimination on the questionable call at Children's Mercy Park.
“We felt it was important to win the game," Vanney said. "In MLS, you never know what’s going to happen. We were pressing to win the game.”
The Galaxy's season finale was a wild ride.
Minnesota jumped out to a 2-0 first-half lead before the Galaxy clawed back to equalize 2-2 early in the second half. Minnesota scored once more to retake the lead, but Chicharito equalized with his second of the day in the 75th minute to make it 3-3. It was his 17th goal of the season, finishing tied for third in the Golden Boot presented by Audi race despite starting just 20 of his team's 34 games due to a midseason injury.
For all the promise of Vanney's first year as head coach, it ends with another season of the Galaxy missing the playoffs. They have failed to hit that benchmark four of the last five seasons.
“I get gross anxiety when we lose. To not make the playoffs, this is going to drive me crazy," Vanney said. "For 10 months or however long we can have the opportunity to be in the playoffs. It kills me.”
“We need to learn, we need to grow," Chicharito added. "Whoever doesn’t have that in mind shouldn’t be in this organization. We have to give everything.”