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Sega Coulilbaly’s consistency has helped Galaxy become a contender

A lot has changed for the Galaxy from last season and including many changes since the middle of this season.

With the arrivals of Riqui Puig, Gaston Brugman and Martin Caceres, the Galaxy have transformed from a team struggling to make the playoffs into one with a legitimate chance at the MLS Cup.

Through all of the changes, defender Sega Coulilbaly has emerged as the one constant.

Coulilbaly, 26, is in his second year with the Galaxy. He joined the club last season from AS Nancy in France.

“When we brought him in (last year), we really liked his concentration, his level of focus, his sharpness, the way he moves, his capacity to cover in situations,” Galaxy coach Greg Vanney said. “Obviously his athleticism is nice (to have) when things break down, he can cover some situations that others can’t sometimes.

“I think he’s consistent. He’s more settled. He understands the league better. He’s understanding each game a little better, the players he’s playing against and he’s getting more comfortable with the people around him. For me, the center back position is 100 percent all about consistency, nothing over the top special, just be consistent every single game and he’s done that.”

Coulilbaly and the Galaxy head into Thursday’s Western Conference semifinal facing rival and top-seeded LAFC (7:25 p.m. kickoff, FS1).

Coulilbaly, who was born in Mali, made 19 appearances (1,422 minutes) last season. This season he made 27 appearances (2,150 minutes). The Galaxy went 5-1-5 to end the regular season and in the last five games, including Saturday’s playoff opener, the Galaxy have allowed just five goals.

In his last 11 starts, the Galaxy are unbeaten (6-0-5) and he leads the team in interceptions (18), is second in possessions won (61) and clearances (29) and third in passes completed (581).

“Defensively, we had to be together and be one together,” Coulilbaly said. “Since we’ve (done) that, we’ve been better defensively and the atmosphere among us has been going well. We had to be together in everything we do.

“We’ve changed our mindset. We said we want to be champions and the most important is not just saying we want to be champions, it is what we do every day that’s going to help us be champions. We do things step by step because we know where we want to go.”

Coulilbaly has been paired with Derrick Williams, Nick DePuy, Eriq Zavaleta and now Caceres.

“Whether it is Derrick, Eriq, Nick or Martin, my job has remained the same,” he said. “I have to give my best to be the defender. I want to play, keep possession of the ball, but my first job is to make sure that we keep the clean sheet. I just give my best.”

Like any player new to the United States and Major League Soccer, Coulilbaly had to go through an adjustment period.

“I think I feel good,” he said. “My first year was so-so. I needed time to acclimate myself, to be comfortable with the people around me, to be comfortable with the league, with the fans, everything. Now, I’m just happy to be here.”

Coulilbaly said the biggest adjustment on the field was tactical.

“It was totally different from Europe,” he said. “Here the game is more box-to-box. Now, I know what he (Greg Vanney) wants from me. When you know the people around you and what is expected, it makes it easier.

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“When you start something new, whether in sports or life, you need time to build confidence, to learn each other’s qualities and habits. The best judge is the time. You need time to practice, to make mistakes also and to improve.”

The challenge for Coulilbaly and the Galaxy this round will be an LAFC team that scored 66 goals this season.

“It’s going to be a big game,” Coulilbaly said. “They’re maybe the best team right now, but we are confident. We respect them, but we know what we can do. The last 10 games we’ve built confidence and now we have to take advantage of this confidence.”

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