CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy could have been atop the Western Conference a couple of weeks ago had they not surrendered leads in three successive games, but they did, letting seven points slip away, and they've fallen out of the Western Conference's top six now that their winless skid has reached five games.
LA dropped below the playoff line when the Portland Timbers topped Toronto FC's largely reserve lineup Wednesday night and are desperate for points as they head into MLS's two-month stretch run with a vital encounter Saturday night at Real Salt Lake (10 pm ET | Full TV & Streaming Info).
It's a playoff game, more or less -- RSL are one of five clubs the Galaxy are battling for, barring something unexpected among the top three, the West's final three playoff berths -- and anything but victory is going to harm the postseason push.
“Yeah, this is an important game,” star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic said. “I don't say win or lose, because we have another six [matches] after this game, so you never know what happens. But it's time to get the points if we want to reach the objectives we put in the beginning of the season.”
The Galaxy (10-9-8) sit seventh in the West, behind sixth-place Seattle (11-9-5) on the total-wins tiebreaker and ahead of eighth-place Vancouver (10-9-7) by a point. Just four points separate fourth and eighth place, and the Galaxy and RSL (12-10-5), in fourth, have fewer games left than the others.
“All the games are such that we need to get points,” head coach Sigi Schmid said. “For sure, we've got three games left at home. We need to maximize those points, and if we can get a win on the road, four wins -- 12 points -- should get us pretty close to where we want to be.
“We've got to accomplish that, and to get them on the road, it's as good this week as any other.”
More so, with Real Salt Lake three points ahead of LA. It's a six-point-swing clash, the first of three in September -- Seattle visit the StubHub Center on Sept. 23, Vancouver six days later -- so fail to win in Utah, and the Galaxy might need to rely on others, something they'd rather not consider.
“When you start doing that, you can drive yourself crazy,” Schmid said. “Because, well, 'if this happens, then this has got to happen,' and 'if this happens, then this happens.'
“You watch a game, and sometimes you see a team like Toronto run out against Portland with a second team, and you say, 'Well, it would have been nice if they had played their first team. And when we go [to Toronto on Sept. 15], who are we going to play? Their first team or their second team? Things are the way they are, so you can't get too caught up in that. We've just got to take care of business.”
“I like to have must-win in every game, because that's my mentality,” said Ibrahimovic, who has 16 goals in 20 games since arriving at the end of March. “I want to win, and I like to win, and I do everything to win, so a must-win for me doesn't matter. I like the pressure, I can handle it, and I put even more pressure on myself than the situation is. ...
“[We need to] get the points we need and, hopefully, come on safe ground where we feel like it's stable, whatever happens. But right now it's pressure. We need to take the points to reach the playoffs.”