The Galaxy came out of the two-week MLS international break Saturday seeking their first win in 10 games, their first lead in six weeks and heading the wrong way in the standings just as the playoff race is heating up.
None of which concerned veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan.
“I’m not worried about this team,” he said before Saturday’s home match with the Portland Timbers. “I know that’s probably weird but I think we’re going to start clicking here soon and that we’ll be fine as the playoffs approach.”
He added, “We know that we are trending downward in the standings and that we have to flip this thing.”
To do that, the Galaxy (11-11-6) must recapture the form they displayed at the start of the season, when they won seven of their first 10 matches and briefly led the Western Conference standings. They’ve won just four of 18 since then and entered the weekend two spots and two points above the playoff-qualification line.
And that begs a question: Which Galaxy team is the real one? The one that won in the spring or the one that’s been losing in the fall?
“In the beginning, we won a lot of games, a lot of close games, where we just battled,” Kljestan said. “We weren’t maybe playing our best, but we got some good results and we also knew even in those moments that those results would go a long way toward the end of the season.
“Lately I think we’ve actually played some very good games and haven’t gotten any results. Those things kind of balance out over the course of a season.”
The Galaxy are running out of time for that turnaround to start. Beginning with Saturday, they have six games left, three at home, three on the road. But four of the six are against playoff contenders, giving the Galaxy a chance not only to gain points but also to keep teams ahead of them from getting away.
On the down side, the international break gave coach Greg Vanney little opportunity to prepare for that frantic three-week sprint to the finish. Because the Galaxy had seven players on duty with their national teams, Vanney sometimes had fewer than 10 players available for training and has held a full practice with his team just once this month.
“What was tough to work on was anything that involved 11 players because we just didn’t have the numbers,” said Vanney, who needs two victories to reach 100 MLS wins in his coaching career. “So we tried to break down scenarios in different areas of the field and try to work through as much detail on that as we could.”
Like Kljestan, Vanney has been trying to find a bright side to the Galaxy’s recent struggles. He finally settled on the old axiom that only pressure can produce diamonds.
“It’s put a stress on the group that it needs to go through to I think ultimately get to where we ultimately want to be,” he said. “We have to play with expectation, we have to play where games feel like you must win in order to get into a playoff environment and be able to be successful.
“We can’t always be in a comfortable spot. This is a real challenge for all of us. We’re in this stretch now where at least some of these games are must-win games and I think this is really going to put a stress and a challenge on this group to kind see where we’re at.”