Riqui Puig, Chicharito inject “emotional boost” into LA Galaxy’s playoff hopes

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Three assists from playmaker Riqui Puig, a top-corner stunner from left back Raheem Edwards, a backheel golazo from star striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and a brace from defensive midfielder Gaston Brugman.

The LA Galaxy, aside from Douglas Costa’s 62nd-minute red card, had ample reason to celebrate Saturday night’s 4-1 drubbing of the visiting Colorado Rapids. With three games to go, they’re back in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs field at seventh place in the Western Conference standings, having snapped a four-game winless streak.

In head coach Greg Vanney’s eyes, it’s a night-and-day difference from a recent 0W-1L-3D stretch where points were left on the table. Penalty-kick struggles from Chicharito and a 3-0 dismantling midweek at Vancouver Whitecaps FC were the biggest culprits there.

“It was, over the last couple games, and specifically Wednesday, it was a lot of possession that doesn’t really go anywhere, doesn’t end with chances,” Vanney said. “And tonight, tonight was the opposite of that. Today it was much more purposeful. It was much more intense.

“When we played between the lines, when we faced forward, making runs forward, we were putting pressure on their backline. With the speed at which we were moving, we were much more purposeful with our possession rather than just keeping possession. The other night, when we played between the lines, we would come back on the other side of the line we just broke.”

LA aren’t in the clear just yet. They’ll lose their game in hand on several fellow West playoff-chasing teams when facing the already-eliminated San Jose Earthquakes on Sept. 24. Then comes a decisive hosting of Real Salt Lake on Oct. 1 and a Decision Day visit to already-eliminated Houston Dynamo FC on Oct. 9.

The Galaxy’s run-in won’t be easy, especially since the record five-time MLS Cup winners have missed the playoffs four of the past five seasons. Vanney detailed the emotional swings LA can experience, now entering the final push on a high note.

“With our group, we have a pretty emotional group that … we probably ride our results more than we should,” Vanney said. “I think our group is good enough that, internally, they should trust themselves and each other a little more. Results shouldn’t make such a difference on our group in terms of our understanding of where we are, and sometimes our belief in ourselves. Because we have a ton of quality in there.

“So, any time we have good results, we take that step forward, it’s an emotional boost for this group in particular. I think that’s a good sign. And now we’ve got to recover and lace ‘em up and go play. I think this is our game in hand that’s coming up – we’ve got to try and make something out of it, for sure.”

Against Colorado, LA’s first three goals came across a nine-minute span and Chicharito moved his team-leading goals total to 15. Puig, signed on deadline day from Spanish superclub FC Barcelona, is also the first Galaxy player to record three assists in a match since Landon Donovan did it in September 2014.

But with the stakes high, they must go again.

“Today we had a good signal after a really bad loss to Vancouver,” said Brugman, who arrived this summer from Italian side Parma. “The team is alive and I think it’s dependent on us. We have three finals to play and we’ll give it our best.”

Riqui Puig, Chicharito inject “emotional boost” into LA Galaxy’s playoff hopes

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