For the second time in three seasons the Galaxy fired their coach in the final weeks of the season and made Dominic Kinnear the interim manager with only the narrowest of paths still open to the playoffs.
And for the second time in three seasons Kinnear came up just short despite getting a goal from Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, with Wednesday’s 1-1 tie with the Seattle Sounders eliminating his team from postseason consideration. Even a win wouldn’t have saved the Galaxy, however, because 360 miles to the north the San Jose Earthquakes beat LAFC 3-2 to grab the Western Conference’s final berth in the largest playoff field in MLS history.
The Colorado Rapids, who will play just 18 times in the regular season after having five games canceled by a month-long COVID-19 outbreak, claimed the other available playoff spot with a 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers. The best the Galaxy can do is finish ninth with a win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday in Portland.
“I told the guys Sunday’s game is important,” said Kinnear, who replaced Guillermo Barros Schelotto a week ago. “We are professionals and we should approach the game the same way as if were a playoff game or for inclusion into the playoffs. Tonight I thought we played really, really well. I disappointed for them because I thought we deserved three points.”
Hernández came off the bench to give the Galaxy the lead with his second goal of the season in the 78th minute, ending one of the most frustrating stretches of his career. But Raul Ruidiaz matched that deep in stoppage time for Seattle, denying the Galaxy two points they thought they had earned.
“I had a pretty bad season. I even told Guillermo before he left that I was sorry that I couldn’t give him my best,” Hernández said. “Yeah it was a bad season for me, but I showed at least in these last games that’s what I can give. I can give better.
“You deserve better. I deserve better.”
Wednesday’s game was originally scheduled for late August, when the Galaxy (6-11-4) were starting a four-game winning streak. But that was one of five MLS games postponed when players refused to take the field in protest of a police shooting in Wisconsin. And Kinnear’s team limped into the makeup date once again without two of its designated players in the starting lineup.
Jonathan dos Santos, who left Sunday’s game after an hour with a strained calf, was not available and Hernández, who lost his starting job 2½ weeks ago, was on the bench. The team’s inability to keep its three DPs healthy — they’ve started just four times together this season — is a big reason for the Galaxy’s struggles this season. Cristian Pavón, the third DP, has played every minute this season and leads the team in goals and assists, but Dos Santos and Hernández have each started just a third of the Galaxy’s 21 games.
The season has been an especially frustrating one for Hernández, who was expected to fill the void left by the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic but played just 11 games. He didn’t completely make up for that against the Sounders, but his goal, off a give-and-go with Efraín Álvarez at the end of a long counterattack, extended the Galaxy’s modest unbeaten streak to two games under Kinnear.
“I thought his goal was excellent,” Kinnear said. “That shows what he can do.
“It’s been a crazy year for a lot of reasons. He hasn’t been with the team a whole heck of a lot. He’s a frustrated guy right now. He probably felt a lot of weight off his shoulders when the ball hit the net.
“I think the thing was we were all disappointed with was the way the season went for him.”
In 2018, Kinnear led the team on a desperate six-game sprint toward the playoffs only to finish a point shy when the Galaxy conceded a goal with 11 minutes left in the regular season. He was facing long odds again when he took over for Guillermo Barros Schelotto last week, inheriting a team that had won just one of its last 10 games. The Galaxy ended that slide in his first game Sunday, turning in one of their best performances of the season. And they were even better against the reigning MLS champions Sounders, playing a high-energy, pressing game only to be repeatedly frustrated offensively.
Their first chance came in the 15th minute when Daniel Steres cleanly beat Seattle keeper Stefan Frei only to have Alex Roldan head the shot off the underside of the crossbar and out of danger. Eleven minutes later, Frei deflected an Ethan Zubak shot off the far post, where Roldan again cleared it away.
Then in the opening seconds of the second half, a Sebastian Lletget shot died in Frei’s arms and in the 59th minute, Zubak missed on a header from the center of the box.
Despite dominating possession, Seattle (10-5-6) didn’t put its first try on goal until Joevin Jones’ left-footed attempt from outside the box in the 49th minute. They got just two more, the final one producing Ruidiaz’s game-tying goal, his 11th of the year, three minutes into stoppage time.
“The results were positive,” Kinnear said of his two games as interim coach. “We got four points out of two games. With a little luck we could have got six.
“Whenever there’s a coaching change you want a positive result, I think we got that.”