After a 2-1 defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes, the LA Galaxy, the most successful team in MLS history, ended Saturday night in a most unfamiliar position: rooted to the bottom of the Western Conference.
The loss, the Galaxy's fourth in a row, came courtesy of an 82nd-minute penalty from San Jose's Andy Rios following a foul in the box from Rolf Feltscher. But the Galaxy refused to blame the late spot-kick for the defeat or their current predicament.
"Anytime you give a PK late in the game it's tough, it's never easy," goalkeeper David Bingham said afterward. "But that one incident isn't what lost us the game, the 80 minutes that we played like crap that lost us the game so it's not important or fair to put it down to that play when the other 80 minutes we were all crap."
The night had started brightly for a Galaxy team in much need of a win when Sebastian Lletget followed up a Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez shot against the post to put them in front with less than four minutes played in San Jose.
"If we play the remaining 80 minutes like the first 10 minutes then we're walking out of here 6-0," added Bingham.
The reality was that the Galaxy failed to keep up that momentum, allowing a Quakes equalizer from Marcos Lopez three minutes before halftime and then conceding again late in the second half to leave them looking up at the rest of the Western Conference and three points out of a playoff place with nine games of the regular season remaining.
Highlights: San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy
On Saturday, coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto tried to find that elusive chemistry by moving dos Santos into a more attacking midfield role, to some earlier dividends.
"I think at the start of the game the chemistry looked wonderful," Schelotto said.
Yet by the end, the same questions remained. Hernandez remains on just one goal for the Galaxy with the rest of the squad still figuring out how to get the best out of him and to get the best out of the team with him in it. The differences from the last two years when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was leading the line, and even the few games when Ethan Zubak started up front for the injured Hernandez and the Galaxy recorded their best run of form this season, are not lost on anybody.
"It's so different, it's night and day," said Lletget of the comparison between Hernandez and Ibrahimovic. "it was easy with Ibra, I mean if you need an outlet and you just need to knock it up the field and he's going to be that target man that can bring it down. Or even Zubak at times has done a really good job of that.
"But with Chica, it's just a completely different approach in that sense. He has to be a target in a sense but that ball has to be more on the ground than in the air. So it's a big difference. I think it's a work in progress, obviously. But we just got to keep giving him a chance and keep supporting our guys. That's the best we can do right now."
Lletget acknowledged that the team is feeling the pressure as they look to avoid missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, which would be as many times as they had done in their entire history before 2017.
Time is not on their side.
"We have a pretty quick schedule coming up and we have to start picking up points," said Bingham. If we drop too many more games like this, we're going to be in trouble."