The pulse on the Galaxy’s dying playoff hopes got a little stronger Sunday, the breathing a little less labored.
With a 3-0 win over the Seattle Sounders before a sun-splashed crowd of 25,503 at StubHub Center, the Galaxy climbed over Vancouver into seventh place in the Western Conference, three points behind Seattle in the race for the sixth and final playoff berth. And while that’s not where the team wants to be, it’s closer to where the Galaxy want to go.
“That puts us back in the conversation,” said interim coach Dominic Kinnear. “That was the message before the game. Let’s not worry about what other teams are doing. Let’s try to get ourselves back into it.
“Now the importance grows. Now we’re within touching distance.”
And they got there on first-half goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ola Kamara, a second-half goal from Ema Boateng, and keeper David Bingham’s first shutout since July 7.
It was the Galaxy’s most well-rounded effort in months. But the team still has a lot of work to do to reach the playoffs: Two of its last four games are against postseason contenders while Seattle, the team it needs to pass, has five games remaining, none against a team with more than eight wins.
“We’re playing like it’s the playoffs. We have to win every game,” captain Ashley Cole said. “We have to play with confidence. We have to play with a fighting spirit.”
Yet after snapping a season-worst seven-game winless streak with their most one-sided victory in more than two months, at least now they have reason for hope.
“This was probably one of our most complete performances,” said Bingham, who was called on to make just one save. “There’s always reason to hope. This group hasn’t quit yet and we don’t plan to.”
And it didn’t take long for that strategy to pay off with Ibrahimovic putting the Galaxy (11-11-8) in front to stay in the ninth minute, scoring his 18th goal of the season on a penalty kick. Ibrahimovic set up the play, taking a ball deep in the penalty area but passing up a shot to send it forward for Kamara, who was racing toward the six-yard box on the right side.
Kamara was taken down from behind by Seattle’s Brad Smith before he could reach the pass and referee Jose Carlos Rivero immediately pointed to the penalty spot.
Ibrahimovic converted the gift, pushing his shot inside the right post as Seattle keeper Stefan Frei dove the other way.
It was auspicious start since the Galaxy have lost just twice this season when Ibrahimovic has scored. They haven’t lost at all when they’ve had a two-goal lead, so their chances got even between when Kamara doubled the advantage in the 40th minute.
And again Ibrahimvoic had something to do with making that happen, working a give-and-go with Romain Alessandrini that freed Alessandrini for a run into the area from the left side. The midfielder then sent a low pass across the front of the goal for Kamara, who tipped it in for his 11th score of the season; Ibrahimovic was credited with a team-high ninth assist.
The three goals in 52 minutes equaled the number Seattle (13-11-5) had conceded in its previous five games combined.
Afterward, in a Galaxy locker room that had, like the team’s playoff hopes, suddenly come to life, loud music played for the first time in a long time.
“It feels good to win but we are not in the playoffs. Yet,” Ibrahimovic said. “If we get in the playoffs, we’ll feel better.”