CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy headed into their home regular-season finale Sunday afternoon knowing that a victory would get them where they wanted to be, with a home game in their Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs opener and in position to grab the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference.
Their inability to get it done, Zlatan Ibrahimovic noted, felt a little like déjà vu.
“Very disappointing, because this is not what we wanted,” the Swedish striker said after the Galaxy, after rallying three times from deficits, surrendered a stoppage-time goal to drop a 4-3 decision to last-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Dignity Health Sports Park. “We wanted a good ending in the regular season, and [this] reminds of the last game last season.”
The Galaxy went into their 2018 finale needing a win to claim a postseason berth, the watched it slip away as the visiting Houston Dynamo rallied from a two-goal halftime deficit for a 3-2 triumph.
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“We weren't in the playoffs [last year]. That's the only difference,” Ibrahimovic said. “[It] was not a good game for us. Total opposite: bad game, already from the start. We do so many mistakes. We didn't even deserve to get points from [this] game.”
The loss dropped LA (16-14-3) to fourth place in the West, two points behind Minnesota United FC and Seattle Sounders FC (both 15-10-8), but they head to Houston knowing that a victory next Sunday during Decision Day presented by AT&T would ensure home field for the first round of the playoffs.
Should Minnesota and Seattle draw, the Galaxy with a win would climb to second, ahead of both on the total-wins tiebreaker. And they could snare a home berth with a draw or a loss, if Real Salt Lake fail to win in Vancouver.
“That's the aim, like it was today,” Ibrahimovic said, but does home-field advantage really matter?
“I don't know,” he replied when asked. “Because there is no favorite. Today people said we should win, we are in a good, like, position, but hey, you lose the game. That is MLS. Away, home, anything can happen.”
Ibrahimovic scored his 29th goal of the season -- he has 13 in the last eight games -- to remain two behind Carlos Vela, who tallied in LAFC's 1-1 draw at Minnesota, in the Golden Boot presented by Audi race, but said he didn't care about that.
“I don't even know how [the race] looks like,” he said. “I just want to help my team win, and today was not enough. Probably I should gave done more goals to win the game.”
Vancouver, which extended their unbeaten streak to three games with just their third road win of the year, targeted crosses into Ibrahimovic, Cristian Pavon's forays into the box from the left wing, and Jonathan dos Santos' service from deep. They kept 10 behind the ball for long stretches and used an effective counterattack, especially as the Galaxy surged forward in search of a victory after Chris Pontius made it 3-3 in 86th minute.
“We were not effective. And it was easy for them to just kick it away,” Ibrahimovic said. “When you are not effective, it becomes easier for the opponent. We had great possibility to put the last ball in the box, but sometimes it doesn't come in. Or it comes in, but it doesn't come in good.”
He said the game in Houston offers an opportunity to “come in a better position, just like we could today,” and then the Galaxy must steel themselves for the postseason.
“Playoffs, I think, is a totally different mindset,” he said. “Away, home, it doesn't matter. The mindset has to be different. So there is no reaction [to what we did today] until we play the playoffs, to change the mindset for the playoffs.”