Galaxy tie Real Salt Lake, clinching an MLS playoff spot and rewarding home crowd
The Galaxy held their annual fan appreciation night Saturday, rewarding a sellout crowd announced at 26,674 by giving away autographed soccer balls, concert tickets and LED bracelets.
But what the fans at Dignity Health Sports Park really wanted was a playoff berth and they got that too, as the Galaxy rallied for a 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake with Douglas Costa’s penalty kick in the 68th minute giving them the point they needed to clinch their second postseason berth in six seasons.
The result also lifts the Galaxy (13-12-8) into fourth place in the Western Conference standings, ahead of Nashville on a tiebreaker, with one game to play. If the Galaxy stay in the top four, they will host a playoff game for the first time since 2016.
“We got a result that we needed to get to get ourselves across the line, and that’s big,” coach Greg Vanney said. “We all signed up here to change the trajectory of this club. It’s been struggling for a number of years, and all of us signed up here to turn this club back into the greatest club in the league.
“We took one step towards that tonight. It’s a small step to get ourselves in the playoffs.”
The Galaxy and LAFC won’t have to wait long to renew their rivalry when they open the 2023 MLS season at the Rose Bowl in February.
Precedent was not on the Galaxy’s side.
In the last decade, the Galaxy have won just once on fan appreciation day. Last season, needing a win on the final day of the regular season, they could manage only a draw and missed the postseason on a tiebreaker. Three years before that, they blew a 2-0 halftime lead and lost, finishing a point out of the playoffs.
The team that went in the Galaxy’s place both times? Real Salt Lake.
The Galaxy were in control of their own destiny again, but history would not be repeated — although it was close there for a while with Sergio Córdova’s awkward header in the 26th minute giving RSL a lead it would protect for more than 40 minutes.
The fact the Galaxy were even in the playoff conversation with two games to go can be credited to a late-season surge that has seen them lose once in their last 10 games. Credit for that goes to midfielders Gastón Brugman and Riqui Puig, who joined the Galaxy during the summer transfer window.
The additions also rejuvenated forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernández. The Galaxy captain has scored seven of his team-high 17 goals in the nine games in which Brugman and Puig have both appeared, triggering a $6-million contract option that will keep him with the team through next season.
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Puig, who came to MLS from Barcelona, was once again everywhere at once Saturday, setting up Julian Araujo for a shot on goal that RSL keeper Zac MacMath stopped with his right foot in the ninth minute, then going down at the top of the box under a challenge from midfielder Scott Caldwell six minutes later to draw a penalty. But MacMath guessed correctly on that shot too, diving to his left and batting Puig’s try from the spot down with both hands.
Córdova scored for RSL (11-11-11) shortly afterward, leaning back to head in a cross from Aaron Herrera, a goal the Galaxy eventually matched on Costa’s penalty kick. Puig was involved in setting that up too, threading a perfect pass through three defenders to Hernández, sprinting into the box.
RSL’s Marcelo Silva, beaten on the play, tripped Hernández from behind, but referee Kevin Stott originally waved off the penalty.
Hernández wisely stayed down, though, stopping play while he was attended to by the trainers. That gave Stott time to check a video replay and award the penalty, the 14th the Galaxy have won this season, the most in MLS.
Costa left no doubt on this one, giving the fans what they came for — a playoff berth.
“I’m happy that tonight we leave our fans with something to be excited about,” Vanney said. “It was important that we leave tonight with that playoff spot. That’s what they’ve been waiting for a number of years.”