CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy maneuvered through a series of “must-win” games — not all of them victories – to climb back into the Western Conference playoff race after a horrendous stretch through August and early September.
Now it's for real.
The Galaxy must win twice — this Sunday afternoon at Minnesota United FC and the following Sunday at home against the Houston Dynamo — and hope Real Salt Lake fails to do so in its regular-season finale this weekend at Portland. If not, the Galaxy will miss the postseason for the second straight season.
That's the scenario that unfolded following following RSL's 4-1 romp Thursday night over visiting New England, a result that leaves the Utahns (14-12-7) four points ahead of the Galaxy (12-11-9) in the battle for the West's final playoff berth. If the teams finish level on points, LA is out, as RSL has clinched the most wins total serving as the first tiebreaker.
The Galaxy were, as interim head coach Dominic Kinnear put it, “all quietly Revolution fans” on Thursday night, and they'll be rooting hard for the Timbers come Sunday. RSL's matches have become must-watch TV for LA.
Well, not for everyone.
“I don't watch football,” said star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose presence at TCF Bank Stadium is expected to draw in excess of 50,000 spectators, setting a record for soccer in Minnesota. “I play it enough. Watch it also becomes too much, I think. That's why you need to have a balance to off-time and work time.
“I've been playing for 25 years. [If I also] watch the game, it feels like it will be 50 years. I don't watch the football.”
Everybody will be watching Ibrahimovic, the biggest name in MLS and the difference-maker for the Galaxy, who draws a crowd every time LA hits the road. He notably skipped treks to New England and Seattle, managing his ongoing recovery from a knee injury, but says he'll play in Minnesota.
“More than 50,000 is coming, and I owe them [something] to come, because, obviously, they don't have this crowd every home game,” Ibrahimovic said on the eve of flight to the Twin Cities. “So I come and I let them enjoy.”
Kinnear acknowledged Thursday that the Swedish striker's status would be discussed.
“Conversations are going to be made heading into this,” Kinnear said. “I think he knows the importance of the next two games. Obviously, as a coach, you don't want to put a player into the position that he's maybe not successful or [in which he might] injure himself. ... He knows the importance of what's going on, and he definitely wants to play and play well.”
LA dropped from third to eighth in the West during a seven-game winless streak, but has been better organized defensively since Kinnear took over from Sigi Schmid last month. Successive 3-0 home victories over Seattle and Vancouver put them within striking distance, and a point at Sporting Kansas City, where they held a lead until the 83rd minute, left them three points behind RSL.
Now they're four points behind with no room for error. If RSL beats Portland, it's over, no matter what they do. If the Galaxy win and RSL loses or draws, LA will head into its last regular-season game knowing that three points gets them through.
“We're all clear on what we have to do,” said forward Ola Kamara. “We have to win these two games. ... I haven't really seen "Decision Day" and one team is already done [with it's schedule]. It's a strange thing, but, for us, it could possibly be good.”