Who the Galaxy and LAFC will play in the MLS Cup playoffs

Galaxy coach Greg Vanney has long insisted the MLS season doesn’t really start until after the last 10 games, which is good because his team’s first 24 didn’t go so well.

On the track, however, the Galaxy were among the hottest teams in the league, and they were rewarded this Sunday when a 3-1 win in Houston gave them their first home playoff game in six seasons.

There was far less drama surrounding the LAFC regular-season finals. The team already had the best overall record in MLS and secured home field advantage throughout the postseason, and Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Nashville didn’t change that. Indeed, the red carpet post-match ceremony where LAFC were presented with the Supporters’ Shield, the award for second in the table in four years, was only slightly muted.

But all of that — LAFC’s relentless regular season, the Galaxy’s insane rush to the finish — is going out the window in the playoffs. The 14 qualifiers start the postseason on the same record, though LAFC and the Philadelphia Union, who finished first in the Eastern Conference, receive a 12-day break and a first-round bye.

The Galaxy will open the postseason Saturday afternoon against Nashville at Dignity Health Sports Park. The last time they had a playoff game there, Landon Donovan started, Robbie Keane came off the bench and Giovani dos Santos scored in the 1-0 win over Colorado.

The last time they competed was in a playoff game somewhere, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was their top scorer and nobody had heard of COVID-19.

Vanney, who helped the franchise to their first place in the playoffs in MLS’ inaugural season 27 years ago as a defensive back, returned two years ago and was determined to help the team find new glory.

Returning to the playoffs is a good first step.

“The players ultimately come to LA to try and win the championship,” he said. “And now we have the tournament to win the championship.”

The Galaxy (14-12-8) made it there thanks to a closing sprint that saw them lose just one of their last 10 games, jump two spots in the Western Conference rankings and edge out Nashville with a tiebreak — overall wins — for the right to number one Host of the playoff opener. This turnaround began with the arrival of midfielders Riqui Puig and Gastón Brugman, who have started together in the last ten games.

“Their successes coincided with the success of the group,” Vanney said. “The character of the group is strong again. It’s about momentum, it’s about finding some rhythm together.”

Unsurprisingly, then, both players made major contributions to Sunday’s win, with Puig’s third goal of the season ending a 1-0 deficit in 31 minutesSt minute, and Brugman’s assist for Javier “Chicharito” Hernández a minute later – Hernández’s career-best 18th of the year – gave the Galaxy the lead to stay.

“We’re going to finish on a good note, but the next game won’t look like the last 34,” Vanney said. “Now we are in a tournament that is a knockout tournament. And we need to come at an even higher intensity than we’ve seen for most of the season. But when I look them in the eye, they envy this group the challenges that lie ahead.”

For LAFC, playoff success means defying history. The team has made the playoffs four times in its five seasons but won just one game when it got there. And the Supporters’ Shield, which the team welcomed in a lavish celebration after Sunday’s loss, could be an even bigger albatross.

Only seven teams have won a Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. It has only been done once in the last 10 years.

“It shows how difficult it is,” said midfielder Ilie Sánchez. “There’s nothing we can do about history. Our first goal this season was to become Supporters’ Shield champion. Now our second and most important goal because it’s next is to become MLS Cup Champion.

“But otherwise I don’t see any difference between us and other teams that will make the playoffs.”

Well, there’s a difference: LAFC and Inter Miami were the only playoff teams to lose their regular-season finals, and for LAFC (21-9-4) that kept it from being just the third team in modern times who won 22 games and fourth to reach 70 points in a season.

Additionally, the loss was only their second home loss this season, while the shutout marked the first time in 41 games that LAFC hadn’t scored at Banc of California Stadium — despite a season-high 29 shots.

Nashville goalie Joe Willis was largely responsible for this, making a career-best 14 saves.

Coach Steve Cherundolo said neither the result nor the playoff arrival will change how his team approaches its next game against the Galaxy Nashville winners in the conference semifinals on Oct. 20.

“We approached every game the same way this season. And we’re going to do the first playoff game the same way,” he said. “We want to win every game we play, especially at home, so not much changes for us.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/story/2022-10-09/mls-playoffs-galaxy-lafc-opponents Who the Galaxy and LAFC will play in the MLS Cup playoffs

Emma Bowman

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