Galaxy's playoff hopes tenuous after tie with Sounders

Los Angeles Galaxy forward Javier Hernandez (14), right, reacts after he scored a goal on Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, second from left, during the first half of an MLS soccer match, Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Galaxy forward Javier Hernández (14), right, reacts after he scored on Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, second from left, during the first half Monday in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

The Galaxy’s grip on an MLS playoff berth grew tenuous Monday after a 1-1 tie with the Seattle Sounders, a result that opened a clear path to the postseason for LAFC.

The point lifted the Galaxy (13-12-8) into sixth in the MLS Western Conference standings with only Sunday’s season finale with Minnesota United remaining. But the Galaxy’s hold on it isn’t that tight.

To remain in the top seven and advance to the postseason, they will need a win over Minnesota, which would give it the edge in a tiebreaker if the Galaxy and Vancouver finish even on 50 points. Anything short of a win, though, and they’ll need help.

The Galaxy broke on top in the 19th minute when an unmarked Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, wearing a white, long-sleeved undershirt and black gloves against the wet and chilly Seattle weather, deflected the ball in from the center of the six-yard box.

The sequence started with a Sebastian Lletget corner kick that Nick DePuy headed toward Hernández, who, while facing away from the goal, redirected it in with the back heel of his right foot for his team-leading 15th goal of the season.

Lletget nearly doubled the lead in first-half stoppage time, one-hopping a right-footed shot from the center of the box toward the far post. But Seattle keeper Stefan Frei, diving to his right, got just enough of his right hand on the ball to push it wide.

Frei made another big save in the opening minutes of the second half, stopping Rayan Raveloson from point-blank range. That proved huge seconds later when Galaxy defender Oniel Fisher tripped Seattle’s Cristian Roldan on the right edge of the box, setting up a penalty that Raúl Ruidíaz, playing for the first time in more than a month, converted to tie the game.

Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris challenges Galaxy defender Nick DePuy.
Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris, right, challenges Galaxy defender Nick DePuy, left, during the second half Monday in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

The Sounders also got 30 minutes from former national team forward Jordan Morris, who was making his season debut after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in February while on loan with Swansea City of the second-tier English Championship.

And while Morris was active, it was teammate Xavier Arreaga who nearly won the game for Seattle only to see Galaxy keeper Jonathan Bond two-hand his header off the crossbar to preserve the draw and give the Galaxy their first point at Lumen Field since 2017.

“There were chances for us to win it,” Galaxy coach Greg Vanney said.

“It’s hard to say we should have won it. But we could have won it.”

And that sets up a must-win game with Minnesota at home, where the Galaxy haven’t won their season finale since 2012.

“The path is clear as to what we have to do,” Vanney said. “It’s a knockout game.”

The Galaxy haven’t been outside the top seven this season but they’re limping toward the finish line, having won just two of their last 14 games. LAFC, meanwhile, is sprinting down the stretch, taking a five-game unbeaten streak into Tuesday’s home match with Vancouver.

As a result LAFC (12-12-8) is in charge of its own destiny. If it wins out, beating Vancouver at home and Colorado on the road on Sunday, LAFC would grab the final playoff berth on a tiebreaker.

“We’ve talked about taking care of our games for a couple of weeks and not counting on anybody else,” coach Bob Bradley said. “We’ve found a way to step up and go after teams in a good way. And we want to try to bring that from the beginning against Vancouver.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.