CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy have been in this position before, just last year, when it required a final-month run to nab an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berth, a trek that ended in frustration when they surrendered a two-goal lead at home and fell in a must-win finale against Houston.
Things haven't been as dire this year. They had been above the playoff line, in second place in the Western Conference for large swaths of the season, until falling last week into eighth, and suddenly find themselves in position to miss out on Major League Soccer's postseason for the third straight campaign.
There are five games left on the schedule, and the next two — home games Sunday night against Sporting Kansas City (10 pm ET | FS1 in US; TSN2 in Canada) and next weekend against the Montreal Impact — are as must-win as they come.
Are the Galaxy desperate? Depends on who you ask.
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“I don't think we have to play like that,” midfielder Sebastian Lletget said following Friday morning's training session at Dignity Health Sports Park. “Like, we don't have to play desperate from minute one to go score and be vulnerable. I think if we play it smart, we know that we need to win these games. There's no doubt about that. Our fans know, we know. We're definitely aware of it.”
The Galaxy's 7-1-1 start under Guillermo Barros Schelotto is just a memory now. They've been 6-12-2 since the end of April, conceding nearly two goals a game in that span, and have hit the most vital point of the campaign in their most vulnerable form. Foes have scored multiple goals in 10 of the last 12 outings — three or four in half those games — and LA have won just one of their last eight games.
The last two outings, in particular — losses two weekends ago at the Seattle Sounders on an 89th-minute goal and on Wednesday night at Colorado on a controversial penalty kick in the 85th minute — have knocked them down. Now they have to get up quickly.
“We've got to stick together,” said Lletget, who missed Wednesday's game after being away with the US national team. “We've got to be a group that's close, and we've got to stick together until the very end. ...
“We're definitely confident. It's not like it's doomsday. We are in good spirits still. We owe it to our fans, and we owe it to this club that deserves to be in the playoffs, at least.”
The Galaxy (13-13-3) are only a point behind sixth-place Portland Timbers and seventh-place FC Dallas and just four out of second place. Their schedule is favorable — a difficult trip to Real Salt Lake after the two home games, back at DHSP against last-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC, then the season-ender at Houston — and a couple of wins would leave them in good shape.
Goalkeeper David Bingham says LA “should be desperate to win every home game,” and he's confident they can.
“We know we're going to win these home games, and we're going to take one or two on the road,” he said. “And, hopefully, we get up in the top couple of spots” to earn a home assignment for the first round of the postseason.
The Galaxy last year went into the final weeks needing wins under interim head coach Dominic Kinnear, who took over from Sigi Schmid in early September. They went 3-0-1 — 3-0 home wins over Seattle and Vancouver, a 1-1 draw at Sporting Kansas City and a 3-1 victory at Minnesota United FC — and needed three points in the finale against Houston to return to the playoffs after finishing last in the league in 2017.
Ola Kamara provided goals in the 27th and 30th minutes for a 2-0 advantage. Houston took charge after halftime, cutting the deficit in half through Romell Quioto's 57th-minute strike, pulling even on a Mauro Manotas penalty kick in the 73rd, then going ahead on Manotas' finish from Alberth Elis' cross six minutes later.
For the Galaxy, it was devastating.
“We definitely want to repeat [last year's late run], just definitely not that last game,” Lletget said. “It might come down to that last game. We have to learn from that, and that's what we can do right now. But one step at a time. We've got the game here on Sunday, and that's all we can focus on.”
The pressure, he acknowledges, has been building as the desired results haven't materialized.
“This is where we're tested mentally,” he said. “We have to stick together and remind ourselves that it is in our control.”
And don't fall into despair.
“Desperation? No,” Schelotto said. “No, no, no. I think we need to be calm, [have] confidence, play well. That is the way to get playoffs.”