Galaxy defeat Nashville, will play LAFC in MLS Cup playoffs

Galaxy coach Greg Vanney has been with MLS since its inception, long enough to know that the regular season and postseason are not the same. Few players on his team know this, so Vanney made a point of treating Saturday’s playoff opener differently.

Although the team was playing at home, the Galaxy spent Friday night at the JW Marriott at LA Live, having dinner and breakfast together, and then taking the bus to the stadium.

“It definitely felt different,” said defenseman Julián Araujo, one of 13 players who made their playoff debut on Saturday. “We woke up, it was different. But it was good to have everyone together, ready and all on the same mission.”

Also good was the fact that Vanney’s plan paid off. Araujo’s second-half header gave the Galaxy a 1-0 win over Nashville SC and a spot in Thursday’s Western Conference semifinals against LAFC at the Banc of California Stadium.

“It’s really a tournament, a knockout tournament, and you want to play your best football when you come into this tournament,” Vanney said of the playoffs. “You want momentum, you want confidence [and] They want to move in that direction.”

Good timing helps too and the Galaxy certainly had that. Araujo’s goal was only his second in MLS – and the first in a stadium full of fans – and the shutout was the first in 14 games for goaltender Jonathan Bond, who also made his playoff debut.

“A lot of us are new to the league. And we kind of have to create that experience for ourselves,” Bond said. “Of course, today was a big moment for us.”

Also for the franchise. The most successful team in league history with five MLS titles, the Galaxy have endured tough times of late, losing more games than they have won since their last home playoff game in 2016. Nobody in this year’s roster wore the uniform from the team’s last postseason game three years ago.

Captain Javier “Chicharito” Hernández said the added post-season pressure made Saturday’s game comfortable.

“I had a lot of fun because I mean you work all year to be in that scenario,” he said. “If you have the opportunity, you just have to live in the moment.”

Even if the moment starts at noon, apparently too early for many fans of the team who didn’t manage to sell out the game?

“If they asked us to play at six in the morning, we’ll play at six in the morning,” Hernández added in Spanish. “We’re lucky to be in the playoffs.”

Despite the early start, the Galaxy controlled a scoreless first half, having the ball for 30 of the 45 minutes. They finally hit the back of the net early in the second half when Hernández scored from a breakaway, but the goal was taken off the board after referee Armando Villarreal viewed video footage and found Araujo fouled Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar early in the build-up -high.

Araujo made up for the error 10 minutes later, stepping in front of Nashville defender Shaq Moore at the far post and heading in a Samuel Grandsir cross on the end line. Araujo’s only other professional goal came in October 2020 when COVID-19 forced teams to play in empty stadiums.

Riqui Puig nearly doubled the lead in the 77th minute but his right foot shot from the top of the box was lifted over the bar. The Galaxy then crouched down and held off several desperate attacks from Nashville to take their 12-game record to 6-1-5, the best mark in the Western Conference.

“The group is playing the best football they’ve played in years,” said Vanney. “There is constancy, continuity and serenity in the group. We’re playing well, but for me the past is the past.

“What lies ahead is all we need to focus on now.”

That would be Thursday’s game against their bitter rivals 12 miles up the Harbor Freeway. It’s one that Galaxy will enter with some playoff experience.

“There seems to be some kind of spirit that’s been growing, especially in the last two months or so,” said Bond, who finished with five saves. “We think it’s kind of the right time now.

“We produce results and find impulses when it matters.” Galaxy defeat Nashville, will play LAFC in MLS Cup playoffs

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