The Fire went to Carson, California on their last Western Conference trip of the season looking to return to winning ways in league play. They had reason for confidence – the Fire went into the match with nothing but wins against western conference teams in MLS play this season.
That confidence, as it would turn out, would be unfounded, as the Fire would find themselves down a man early in the first half and a goal seconds later, and the team were never able to work themselves back into the match.
The squad had notable changes in its composition from the one that was dealt a 3-1 loss last week against Orlando City, starting with the coaching staff, with Head Coach Frank Klopas returning to duty after a COVID diagnosis kept him out last week. He made several changes to the starting XI, starting up top, with Kei Kamara making his first start since July 1. Fabian Herbers returned to a starting spot on the wing, and Federico Navarro would make his first start since late June. The Galaxy, playing their first match in nearly four weeks, started several new arrivals, including Maya Yoshida, a free agent who played in the Bundesliga last season.
The match started off well enough for the visitors, with Shaqiri getting a shot on net in the first minute. The Galaxy would soon return the favor and force Brady to make an aerial save, but the Fire would not let the hosts build momentum. Brian Gutiérrez would be the ultimate benefactor of some swift ball movement by Shaqiri, and would have not one but two looks on net in the 7th minute when he received contact in the box. The action was reviewed, but ultimately considered to be above board, and play resumed.
End-to-end play continued in the first half, with the Galaxy having an edge in possession but the Fire an edge in chances as the Fire’s defense would spoil the Galaxy’s attempts to capitalize in the first quarter of the match.
All that would change in the 27’ when Gastón Giménez would challenge Douglas Costa with two feet and earn his second yellow, ending his evening and putting the Fire down a man for the rest of the match. The Galaxy wouldn’t need long to capitalize, as Tyler Boyd would score mere seconds after play resumed.
Putting the team down to ten men, Herbers would drop for the departed Giménez in the double pivot, and the Fire would essentially play Shaqiri as a combination 10 and winger. The Fire would show a sign of life or two in the ensuing minutes, but ultimately the Galaxy would have the better chances and far more of them, forcing Brady to make a number of key saves to keep the match in reach for the squad as the first half came to a close.
Play would resume much where it left off, though with Ousmane Doumbia taking the place of Fabian Herbers – with the Galaxy holding possession but the Fire unafraid to take advantage of the opportunities that they were given, as Kamara sought a goal to even Landon Donovan’s tally on his former stomping ground. The Fire would grow into the match, and actually control possession early in the second half. The visiting side pressured the Galaxy and had the greater number of chances in the opening 20 minutes of the second frame, but none seemed particularly dangerous. Looking for a second goal, Galaxy Head Coach Greg Vanney would go to his bench and bring on three substitutions.
Vanney’s appetite for a goal would be sated, but not because of his changes. Riqui Puig would score in the 72nd minute, giving the home team a two goal cushion while up a man. In the ensuing minutes, Klopas responded by going to his bench, looking for the spark that had so far eluded his squad, bringing on Maren-Haile Selassie, Jairo Torres and Georgios Koutsias in lieu of Xherdan Shaqiri, Brian Gutiérrez and Kei Kamara. The play on the field would not significantly change in the ensuing minutes, although Jairo Torres would give the Fire their best look of the evening in the 83’ but would find only the woodwork as Miguel Ángel Navarro would cede his position for Alonso Aceves soon after.
That was as close as the Fire would get, as the Galaxy were awarded a penalty kick in the 90’ which Billy Sharp, freshly arrived as a free agent, would put the icing on the cake.
The Fire, now with two losses in a row since their return from the Leagues Cup, do not have long to lick their wounds as they return to action on Wednesday at Soldier Field against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Although the Fire remain in possession of a postseason spot courtesy of other results on the matchday, the margins are narrowing and the next match, the team’s last at home for nearly four weeks, takes on a significantly greater tone of “must win.”