Injuries to Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández and Sega Coulibaly hurt Galaxy in loss

Galaxy forward Javier "Chicharito" Hernández argues a call with a referee during a game.
Galaxy forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, shown here during a match against San Jose on May 29, was scratched just before Sunday’s loss to Sporting Kansas City.
(Peter Joneleit / Associated Press)

Galaxy coach Greg Vanney believes his team played its best game of the season Sunday night. And he might be right.

But if you go by most objective measures, it was a lost night.

On the scoreboard, Sporting Kansas City got late goals from Johnny Russell and Khiry Shelton to post a 2-0 win. In the Western Conference standings, the third-place Galaxy (7-4-0) fell further behind Kansas City and Seattle, which are now tied for first.

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And then there were the injuries. The Galaxy lost captain Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, the league’s leading goal scorer, to a calf injury minutes before kickoff at Dignity Health Sports Park, and then Sega Coulibaly limped off with a right abductor injury just before halftime. How long either will be out is uncertain, turning a lost night into a frustrating one as well.

“The team is frustrated,” defender Jorge Villafaña said. “We feel like we played better than them.”

The Galaxy did, taking nine shots and putting five of them on goal before Kansas City got its first in first-half stoppage time. By then Kansas City keeper Tim Melia had made five of his seven saves, his most in a game since 2018.

It was that kind of night for the Galaxy.

“For 78 minutes, it was arguably the best game we’ve played all year,” Vanney said. “Our ball circulation, our ball movements, our positional play, our relationships on the field, our chance creation was all outstanding. The part that missed was putting the ball in the back of the net. When you create so many chances, we have to score.

“At the end of the day, we want to win the game, right? We don’t want to keep talking about moral performance victories. We need to score. We deserve to take something out of this game.”

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Anything beyond a moral victory will have to wait until at least Monday, when Hernández and Coulibaly will be reexamined. Vanney said Hernández was held out for precautionary reasons after experiencing discomfort in his right calf, the same one he tore last summer, sidelining him for two months.

“Hopefully we caught it and we can move forward,” Vanney said. “But we don’t know until tomorrow.”

Coulibaly’s departure Sunday complicated things for a Galaxy team that entered the weekend without three starters in midfielders Jonathan dos Santos and Efraín Álvarez, who are away with the Mexican national team, and center back Derrick Williams, who was serving the penultimate match of a six-game suspension.

Also missing for international duty were defenders Oniel Fisher (Jamaica) and Giancarlo González (Costa Rica), absences that forced Rayan Raveloson, who was only supposed to go 60 minutes, to play a full game in his MLS debut, beginning in the midfield and finishing as a center back.

Despite all that, the Galaxy pushed forward from the start with Samuel Grandsir testing Melia three times in the first half. In a 41-second span late in the period, Ethan Zubak, Victor Vázquez and Grandsir all put shots on goal — and all came away empty.

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By the 65th minute, the Galaxy’s frustration was becoming obvious, with each new miss greeted with sagging shoulders or an angry wave. Melia, meanwhile, was rewarded when Russell headed in the rebound of his own shot in the 81st minute, handing the Galaxy their second straight loss at home.

For Vanney, not all was lost — a point he hammered home to his players.

“We felt like we outperformed another very good opponent and didn’t come away with a win,” he said. “I want them to recognize the good things in the game but also be frustrated that we didn’t win.”

Because as Vázquez reminded his teammates, sometimes victories are where you find them.

“It’s always about the result,” he said. “[But] we have to be happy the way we played.”