The players are on vacation already, but most Galaxy fans will still be shaking their heads, wondering what could’ve been.
Galaxy Should Be Proud, Despite Defeat
The best fan base in Los Angeles has had a few days to digest Thursday night’s 3-2 El Tráfico loss at Banc of California Stadium to LAFC in the Western Conference Semifinal, but the time probably hasn’t made it any easier to stomach.
A heart-wrenching stoppage time goal scored against the run of play by LAFC’s Cristian “Chicho” Arango on 93 minutes secured LAFC the win and a spot in the next round of the playoffs.
In a back-and-forth match which the Galaxy controlled large parts of, it was LAFC who found a goal to prevail and end the Galaxy’s season in the process.
After giving up a corner kick deep in injury time, Galaxy Goalkeeper Jonathan Bond initially saved Denis Bouanga’s shot from close range, but Arango fired the rebound shot into the top corner of the net for the 3-2 game-winner.
Blue, white, and gold hearts were sunk in an instant. In an instant, three months of bleak midwinter with no Galaxy soccer.
“We were pretty close there. We give up a corner kick at the end, and we just don’t defend it well… and then the corner kick was certainly the difference at that point,” Galaxy Head Coach Greg Vanney said of the game’s defining play, the end to another typical El Tráfico roller coaster.
Galaxy Captain Javier “Chicharito” Hernández probably summed up how most Galaxy fans were feeling post-match. It is a feeling that Galaxy fans will carry into next season’s season opener at the Rose Bowl on February 25, 2023.
“It’s going to be very difficult to tell you in different words other than pain and disappointment. You’re not going to hear anything different. That’s the feeling that I have… We probably could have maintained the 2-2 result in the end. Disappointment. We need to leave this pain and transform it into something positive for next season.”
A Reason To Be Proud
But much like the 11 warriors on the field did during the match, in which the Galaxy battled back to tie twice, Galaxy fans everywhere should lift their heads proudly in defiance.
Los Angeles was never supposed to be here.
Yes, Galaxy fans expect championships, but, save for the arrivals of midfield reinforcements, LA probably would’ve watched these playoffs from home.
The arrivals of Gaston Brugman and Riqui Puig transformed the Galaxy’s season at a moment when they were outside the playoff picture. They steadied the ship after a nine-game stretch where the Galaxy won just twice and fan fears were at a fever pitch about missing the playoffs again.
If there was one thing Vanney was looking for in the team this season, it was consistency. Brugman and Puig brought stability to a Galaxy midfield that allowed the team to go on its best run in the Vanney era.
A set-piece goal is the only thing that stood in the way of a truly special, almost unthought-of playoff run.
“I’m really proud of our guys. It’s been a hell of a stretch of games that the guys have put together in the last 12, 13 games. And battled until the very end. And the game came down to a couple plays here or there, you know? The most important thing, now, is I’m proud of this group,” the second-year coach expressed.
“We’ve come a long way since a year and a half ago, two years ago. I think this group has proven that they’re capable of winning things. Tonight it didn’t go our way, but we certainly had our moments where we were in control of the match in good stretches.”
What a Difference a Year Makes
Vanney is right, of course. This is a club that hadn’t made the playoffs in four of the last five years. Galaxy fans must admit progress has been made, no matter what they thought of the El Tráfico loss.
It’s almost like they’ll have to start to “trust the process.”
Last year, a Decision Day disaster left LA watching the playoffs from their couches.
In this campaign, the Galaxy got hot at the right time and took the supposed “best” team in MLS down to the wire.
A few bounces go a different way, and the Galaxy would have been just a match away from MLS Cup. In this way, the Galaxy should be proud, despite defeat.
“I’m proud of the growth that the group made. I think they, you know, especially here in the playoffs, they played two big games where there was a lot on the line. We played a number of games down the stretch of the season where we felt like every game mattered. That’s something this group needed to go through, is to play these types of important matches,” Vanney said in praise of the team.
“I’ve seen the group kind of grow together as men. And, the qualities of the group came out.”
To Build Forward
The challenge will now be to keep the momentum going.
And the Captain immediately tried to look at the positives despite the defeat. Chicharito spoke of transforming the pain of disappointment into something positive for the Galaxy.
A reminder they will need to keep progressing.
And if last year, the team used missing the postseason as motivation to make the playoffs this year, who knows what heights losing to your city rival can propel you to?
“If we are mature, and we are conscientious, we can create something big from here. Obviously, right now there are no words to describe the pain of losing against your neighbors, and the rivalry… In the last minute… With tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, we’re going to start taking out the positives as well and be very critical with ourselves individually and as a group.”
But Vanney and Bond had already started looking at themselves post-match.
More importantly, they both started looking ahead to next year.
When asked what success looked like for the Galaxy next season, both answered “MLS Cup,” without missing a beat.
The Next Step
From every match to every minute—your support was undying.
Thank you, 𝕲’s pic.twitter.com/sU6IdWmrpv
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) October 21, 2022
Vanney will now be tasked with taking the Galaxy that huge step further as the architect of this project.
The players Vanney has at his disposal for next year, plus the way the team ended the season, means the foundation should be laid for something special.
Vanney seems to feel it too. His words should assure; the Galaxy should be proud, despite defeat.
“For us, it’s just continued growth. But we have a lot of really good pieces. We’ve got a group that is now connected like they’ve never been connected before in that locker room. Trusting each other and working for each other. So, we have got a lot to be proud of. And a lot to look forward to as we build forward.”