Despite officially being eliminated from the playoffs, the LA Galaxy played in front of 20,763 of their fans on Saturday night.
A rotated version of an already rotated squad earned a point, which sees LA in 13th place going into the final weekend of MLS. Shock.
Real Salt Lake visited Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday, October 14th, as the occasional K-pop concert venue hosted the LA Galaxy for the penultimate time this year. Although the team had nothing to play for beyond what little pride remained after a losing season, the LA Galaxy did score a couple of goals to spark some joy among their fans.
Unfortunately, much like the post-summer window resurgence, this joy was short-lived as Real scored two of their own and sent both teams home with a point each.
With nothing to compete for, Greg Vanney felt free to reward some of his depth players with a starting role.
Novak Mićović got the nod beneath the sticks, while Mauricio Cuevas got another opportunity to stretch his legs and show his pace. Daniel Aguirre came into the midfield as Puig’s season may be over in an effort to protect him for the season ahead. Although many expected Aguirre to simply make up the numbers in midfield, his tenacity bore fruit in this match, and he was influential in much of what was positive for the Galaxy.
The 24-year-old was never expected to replicate Puig’s productivity, but his actions ended up being just as generative at times, especially in the first half. Aguirre was mostly composed and responsible on the ball but clearly emphasized getting his team forward. It only took seven minutes until fans saw shadows of the Spaniard, and Aguirre helped find the breakthrough with a classy touch, turn, and assist to Dejan Joveljic. Following an RSL attack in the 33rd minute, Aguirre’s drive into the opposition’s half gave Billy Sharp the opportunity to show off his passing ability with a beautiful curler to Joveljic. DJ doubled his goal contributions on the night with a great first-time pass to Douglas Costa, who buried it and scored what may have been his last in front of the Galaxy home fans.
Unfortunately for the supporters at The Digs, Greg Vanney’s side continued their awful habit of giving up leads. Real Salt Lake found their first goal just before the end of the half in a way that is all too familiar to Galaxy fans. After Tony Alfaro failed to clear the cross he had intercepted, the ball bounced around Mićović’s box before Anderson Julio’s shot took a massive deflection off of Mauricio Cuevas’s outstretched leg that helped it find its way into the back of the net. Another unfortunate play to add to the painfully long 2023 LA Galaxy Blooper Reel (I’d love to see a compilation of every unlucky goal that the Galaxy conceded this season, those off of a crazy deflection, awful giveaway, own goal. It feels like there were just way too many of them this season).
The equalizer came in the 76th minute from Salt Lake’s Diego Luna, who had been threatening all match. His feet were quick enough to allow him to get past Edwin Cerrillo’s lax effort to close him down and find just enough space to squeeze his shot through traffic and past Mićović, who, in the opinion of this ex-AYSO’s keeper, should have done better.
Fortunately, these imperfections are meaningless as the Galaxy’s season has been lost for some time now. Catastrophic injuries in defense and midfield left holes that the squad was never equipped to address. These gaps manifested themselves on the pitch in the form of a neverending stream of goals-against. Vanney’s team last kept a clean sheet in early September, and since then, they have conceded 24 goals in eight matches.
With no way to prevent these goals from coming, the instructions from Vanney’s forwards have been to outscore every opponent. Considering that they would need to score three goals just to draw level every match, earning the results needed to make playoffs would have required some legendary production from our forwards. Despite the challenge’s size, some players threatened to give the Galaxy some life late in the season.
Summer-signing Billy Sharp hit the ground running in the MLS, ending the season with eight goals scored in 12 MLS matches, matching Lionel Messi’s rate (four goals in six matches). But the initial flurry of goals has since slowed to a halt. Although still contributing with assists, the Galaxy have the summer to consider extending Sharp’s MLS career until 2024. His future likely depends on the attacking signings that the front office can make this season.
A little bit out of nowhere and a lot late, Dejan Joveljic has recently reconnected with the version of himself that can be a difference-maker for his side. The Serbian suddenly has the opportunity to score his third in as many games on Fan Appreciation Night. If he achieves the feat, Joveljic will have scored 7 and will be level with teammates Tyler Boyd and Riqui Puig on the season. 2024 will be the most important year yet for the Chessmaster, as a significant increase in goal output should be the only argument persuasive enough to convince the front office to consider extending his contract.
Fortunately for the LA Galaxy, there are other clubs with question marks over their inability to find the difference in their final match of the year. FC Dallas seems to believe that slow and steady will be their path to the play-in round, as their last five fixtures have ended in low-scoring draws. Having scored slightly less than a goal per game in that time, the Galaxy may be able to, at the very least, end the season with a win at home for their supporters.
Recent history indicates that LA might be able to steal the 3 points and play spoiler for FC Dallas’ playoff hopes with only a couple of goals. This, of course, relies on the Galaxy defense’s ability to perform and clubs with better defensive records in only conceding one goal against Dallas. Considering this group conceded at least two goals in eight consecutive games, this may be a tall order.
LA Galaxy vs FC Dallas kicks off on Saturday, October 21st, at 7:39 PM PST.
Those who wish to bid the awful, no good, very bad 2023 season goodbye may do so by watching on Apple TV+ or live at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Nuestra Galaxia Fútbolera will be back next week to break down the season’s final action and begin setting the stage for what’s coming in the off-season.
Photo: Ryan Sun, Associated Press