The Galaxy had a chance to make things very easy for themselves when they faced the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday afternoon at Dignity Health Sports Park.
After all, the Galaxy were riding a three-game winning streak and had already clinched a spot in the MLS playoffs while the Whitecaps were playing for pride after having already been eliminated from postseason play.
But in MLS things are hardly ever easy. Especially after Vancouver scored four goals in a 4-3 victory on Fan Appreciation night in front of 25,903.
The loss also halted the Galaxy’s climb up the conference standings where they entered the game in third place.
“I think there isn’t a lot of difference between the teams in this league,” Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said. “You can never get time for a breath. You have to play always every game 100%. Because if not, you can lose.”
The Whitecaps opened the scoring with a few fortuitous bounces. All the result of hard work.
The first came in the 20th-minute when Vancouver defender Doneil Henry took a corner kick to the back post. Henry fell forward past Galaxy defender Diego Polenta, and ended up in the back of the net with the ball next to him.
But the Galaxy would answer quickly with some timely combination play between Cristian Pavon and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The result was Ibrahimović’s 29th goal of the season, which keeps him just two shy of LAFC’s Carlos Vela, who also scored Sunday.
The tie game was short-lived, however, with the Whitecaps pulling ahead for the second time on a 41st-minute goal from Theo Bair. Bair, the recipient of a deflected shot from just outside the box, touched a soft pass over the goal line with just enough pace to outrun any Galaxy defenders.
The goal scoring was just getting started in what would turn out to be a see-saw battle.
The Galaxy’s Uriel Antuna would score his fourth goal in his last five games when he chipped a perfectly weighted ball, from midfielder Jonathan dos Santos in the 58th-minute, over Vancouver goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau.
But for the third time in the game, Vancouver would take the lead back. This time, off a perfect cross from Erik Godoy to forward Tosaint Ricketts in the 64th-minute. The cross, catching Ricketts between defenders Daniel Steres and Polenta, was perfect in unlocking the Galaxy’s back four.
It would take a substitute appearance by MLS veteran Chris Pontius to bring the game level in the 86th minute, in what should have ended the game in a draw.
But Vancouver scored in the third minute of stoppage time when substitute Fredy Montero caught forward Hwang In-Beom behind an overly-committed Galaxy defense. In-Beom took on Galaxy keeper Matt Lampson and then dished to teammate Michaell Chirinos for the winner.
“It was a not a good game from us, total opposite, bad game right from the start,” Ibrahimovic said. “We didn’t even deserve to get points from this game.”
And while the result does drop the Galaxy to fourth place in the Western Conference – just two points behind Minnesota United and the Seattle Sounders – they’ll still get a chance to climb as high as second place with a win over Houston next Sunday. A move that would also clinch a first-round home game for the Galaxy.
Ibrahimovic, however, had his mind on the last time the Houston Dynamo and Galaxy played each other on the final day of the regular season. A game the Galaxy lost.
“We wanted a good ending in the regular season,” he said. “It reminds me of the last game last season. But we were not in the playoffs. That is the only difference.”