Galaxy have a new player blustering like Zlatan — and they're still not letting LAFC off the El Tráfico mat

CARSON, Calif. — Live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

The rivalry between Los Angeles Galaxy and LAFC certainly didn’t need a boost, but Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup version of El Tráfico, which the Galaxy won 3-1, might’ve pushed it to another level. It was the second time ever the teams met in a knockout game, and this time it was the older L.A. squad that prevailed with a 3-1 win, remaining unbeaten against the Black and Gold at Dignity Health Sports Park.

But for the first time there was actual bad blood that boiled over postgame as players and coaches had to be separated amongst a sea of pushing and shoving. LAFC players Mamadou Fall and Brian Rodriguez were visibly among the most angered, and had to be held back multiple times. The loss itself could’ve been enough to spark those emotions, but this was different.

A day before the game Galaxy midfielder Raheem Edwards made some comments that sparked the fire. “I want to beat LAFC so bad,” he said. “The [3252, LAFC Supporters’ Group] … I’m going to be honest, I just want to piss them off.”

Edwards played for LAFC just last season and is the only player to appear for both sides in the rivalry. He knew exactly what he was doing, though. His villainous behavior was premeditated, and while LAFC saw it as shade, the Galaxy took it in stride. It motivated a team that was coming off consecutive home losses in which they were outscored 6-1.

“I need to get guys fired up, and I also want the drama,” he said. “I think MLS is a little too soft in terms of I think players are too conservative and they don’t want to look like the bad guy. I’m just trying to light the fire between both sides.”

For the first time in a while, everything went the Galaxy’s way, not just the result. Kévin Cabral, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and Dejan Joveljić scored to put the Galaxy up 3-0 before LAFC seized late consolation. They were simply the better team.

Raheem Edwards is blustering like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the Galaxy used it to stay unbeaten at home against rival LAFC. (Photo by Dave Bernal/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
Raheem Edwards is blustering like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the Galaxy used it to stay unbeaten at home against rival LAFC. (Photo by Dave Bernal/ISI Photos/Getty Images) (Dave Bernal/ISI Photos via Getty Images)

They showed more passion, outmuscled their opponent, and were more organized. LAFC star Carlos Vela was subbed off in the 20th minute due to feeling something in his quad. On the other end, his counterpart Hernández was dancing, celebrating the goal he scored in the 57th minute, just six minutes after Cabral’s opener.

“Today I think [Galaxy] fought more, played a better game and deserved to win,” Vela said. “We are let down as a team by the way we played and lost.”

The postgame drama was a direct reflection of frustration from the result, but you can attribute some of that to Edwards, too.

LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo was upset at what went down after the final whistle. The Galaxy chalked it up to emotions. And why not? LAFC was haunted by Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the early days of the rivalry, and it’s fitting Edwards invoked Ibra-esque bravado to gain an edge. Psychological warfare at its finest.

Since Ibrahimovic's famous debut in 2018, LAFC been trying to win a game in Carson and it hasn’t happened yet. Unless they meet there in this year's MLS Cup Playoffs, that drought is carrying over into 2023.

This loss may sting extra since the chance at winning a trophy slipped away once again. The remaining path in the U.S. Open Cup, which is contested between the four leagues sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation, is USL side Sacramento Republic in the quarterfinals and then either another USL team or Sporting Kansas City, which is in awful form this season, in the semis.

That opportunity now belongs to the Galaxy, a team with a hefty trophy cabinet, rather than LAFC, the side eager to fill one.

“To get a victory here in Open Cup against our rivals is perfect,” Edwards said. “This one was the most heated one for sure that I’ve played so far. I think the rivalry needs this. We need a little bit of grittiness, fight and drama, so I thought this was perfect.”

Edwards endured his fair share of fan criticism while playing for LAFC. It became clear he wasn’t going to be any sort of hero for LAFC, so he switched sides and became a villain instead.

This suits him much better anyway.