CARSON, Calif. — It's been a long, slow tumble since that 7-1-1 start solidly positioned the LA Galaxy behind their archrivals LAFC atop the Western Conference, a chronicle of inconsistency that has one of the league's signature clubs in danger of missing the postseason for the third successive year.
Entering Sunday's massive home match against Sporting Kansas City (10 pm ET | FS1, TSN2), the Galaxy are 6-12-2 since the end of April. They haven't won back-to-back games since late May, and have fallen to eighth place, one point out of a playoff berth but just four behind second place, after late goals toppled them in Seattle and Colorado. Those defeats followed draws at LAFC and at home vs. Seattle, on a freak own goal, in which they lost second-half leads.
The addition last month of Argentine wing-forward Cristian Pavon has given the Galaxy attack some real verve beyond Zlatan Ibrahimovic's production, but the chances too often aren't taken and goals are easily conceded at the other end.
Based solely on current form, the Galaxy (13-3-3) seem the most likely of Western playoff contenders to miss out.
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What's wrong? Plenty. And nothing that can't, in theory, be fixed. At least that's the view of head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who this year with general manager Dennis te Kloese and technical director Jovan Kirovski has been remaking the Galaxy into a more dynamic squad with the additions of mostly Latin American talent.
“We always were thinking this year we would be up and down,” Schelotto said. “I think it's very difficult to talk about specific things. But I think we can get better in these [final] five games, taking the things wrong we did during the year.
“Every game you have to learn about, because nobody can say, 'OK, we're going to play like that, we never make a mistake,' because that never happens. It is a part of the game. I think we got a mistake, we learn about that, and I hope the team can show in the last five games very well to get [into the] playoffs.”
Schelotto said international call-ups since June have played havoc with LA's lineup, and injuries have kept several important players — including Ibrahimovic, Jonathan Dos Santos, Sebastian Lletget and Romain Alessandrini — on the sidelines for varying spans.
“I think when we have the players,” Schelotto said, “we have really good games.”
He's used 24 lineups in 29 games and no lineup more twice, although there are few XIs very similar to others, with merely a change on the backline or in the attacking line behind Ibrahimovic.
The Galaxy's defense has been poor, conceding 39 goals in the past 20 outings. They've paid heavily for mistakes, losing seven points on goals surrendered in the 79th minute or later and twice losing their grasp in tight games after giving up two goals in the final 10 minutes.
“I think at times we slipped in games that we shouldn't have early on [in the season], and they catch up with you ...,” Lletget said. “It's consistency with us. We slip up in moments that we just need to be more secure.
“It's very unfortunate, but it's not like we aren't working on it. We are. We are trying. It's not like we're just letting time fly by and see what happens. We are trying to be proactive on it and doing the best we can.”
Ibrahimovic has often been sensational up front, with 23 of the Galaxy's 42 goals. But nobody else has more than three. It too often seems that if the big Swede doesn't hit the net, LA won't score.
“He is our guy. He's been the guy. It's not like he doesn't want to be that guy,” Lletget said. “Obviously, we do rely on him. He is our striker. But if more guys can get there and contribute, of course that would be amazing for this team.”
And they've been unfortunate, including Jorgen Skjelvik's 82nd-minute own goal in the home draw with Seattle, and two disputed penalty decisions — one that referee Fotis Bazakos awarded to Colorado, and one that he declined to give to LA — in the Galaxy's most recent loss.
“For that, I say we need to play 90 minutes. Not just part of the game,” Schelotto said. “It will be very important now in the last five games [that we] play 90 minutes, focus, everyone do on the field what we practice. Don't care if the referee make a mistake, a big mistake. We need to be focused on win and [play] the way we practice, and we know how, and that's it to win.”