CARSON, Calif. (AP)Julian Araujo of the LA Galaxy bounced back from a costly mistake to score his first goal in two years.
Araujo’s header, which came nine minutes after the Galaxy’s first apparent goal was disallowed by VAR, propelled the Galaxy to a 1-0 victory over Nashville on Saturday in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs.
The Galaxy, making their first postseason appearance since 2019, advanced to play rival and top-seeded Los Angeles FC on Thursday night in the Western Conference semifinals.
”I was in the box, saw the play develop, went back post and hoped that Sam (Grandsir) would chip it. I was positioned to hit it across from the goalkeeper,” said Araujo, of his first goal since Oct. 7, 2020, against Portland.
In the 60th minute, Grandsir delivered a looping crossing pass from the endline towards the box, where Araujo was able to head it past goalkeeper Joe Willis.
Nine minutes earlier, Javier ”Chicharito” Hernandez thought he scored his first MLS postseason goal, only to have it disallowed when VAR ruled Araujo’s foul on Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar, led to the turnover and apparent score.
Hernandez scored with a shot that found the top of the far corner of the net before it was disallowed.
”I saw it and think it is too soft. VAR is going to need to go with more decisive plays,” Hernandez said. ”Thankfully the result was in our favor and that play wasn’t more transcendent.”
The Galaxy have only one loss in their last 12 games, going 6-1-5. Coach Greg Vanney was more pleased about it being his club’s first shutout since July 24 against Atlanta.
”We haven’t got a ton of shutouts. To dig down, this is how you win playoff games,” he said. Sometimes they aren’t as fluid as you would like. Sometimes you have to defend.”
Mukhtar, the MLS Golden Boot winner with 23 goals in the regular season, had a run up the right side in the 46th minute before Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Bond stopped it for one of his five saves.
Nashville had a pair of chances in the final 30-plus minutes but could not convert. Teal Bunbury’s header in the 65th minute was too high and just went over the crossbar while C.J. Sapong’s shot in the 89th minute was wide right.
Coach Gary Smith did not make the trip due to illness. First assistant Steve Guppy was the acting coach.
”We certainly stifled them, won the ball in high areas, but sadly on the day, just maybe lacked a little bit of quality on the ball,” Guppy said. ”It was just a very, very tight game and could have gone either way.”
Nashville – which has made the playoffs all three seasons it has been in MLS – had a 9-7 advantage in shots and 5-4 in shots on goal. Willis made three saves.
The Galaxy’s focus now turns to their rival and this season’s third edition of El Trafico. The teams split their two regular season meetings while LAFC won the only postseason matchup in the 2019 Western Conference semifinals.
”As a guy who has been around this league since day one, I understand the gravity of a matchup likes this. The emotion that gets behind a game like that is going to be exponentially greater. It should be exciting and interesting,” Vanney said.
Hernandez said he would start focusing on the match and the short turnaround on Sunday.
”Today we’re going to celebrate and tomorrow we’ll think about our neighbors,” he said.
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