Last year, LAFC was the best team in Major League Soccer history, breaking the record for the most points in a season, tying the mark for most goals and posting the top goal differential ever.
This year, it’s not even the best team in Southern California. That honor goes to the Galaxy, which Sunday rode a second-half goal from Cristian Pavón, two from Sebastian Lletget and a seven-save night from goalkeeper David Bingham to a 3-0 win, its second over LAFC in 15 days.
Only one other MLS team — Sporting Kansas City in 2018 — has beaten LAFC twice in the same season. The Galaxy have beaten their neighborhood rivals twice in two weeks.
No other team has beaten LAFC as many as three times in the franchise’s short history. The Galaxy (4-3-2) have done that four times and now lead it in the Western Conference standings for just the second time since LAFC (3-3-3) entered the league.
If that’s not enough, Sunday’s victory was also the Galaxy’s fourth in a row, their longest winning streak in more than a year.
“The team is playing at a wonderful level,” coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said. “The level in the second half was very high.
“Everyone is growing and everything is better now and we can now continue to get good results.”
Good results like winning a game in which they were outshot, outpossessed and at times outplayed, especially in a scoreless first half in which LAFC wasted numerous chances.
The fake crowd noise pumped through a lifeless Dignity Health Sports Park did little to mimic the electric atmosphere of past editions of the rivalry, known as El Tráfico. And without the fans the only traffic for much of Sunday’s opening half was in front of the Galaxy goal, where LAFC piled up a 14-1 edge in shots, putting seven of those on goal.
“We played a good first half,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. “But you’ve got to come away with at least a goal.”
Said Galaxy defender Daniel Steres: “To come out of that zero-zero was a little surprising. But it was good for us. We knew in the second half we couldn’t give up that space.”
Which isn’t to say there was none of the bite associated with the rivalry. LAFC’s Latif Blessing, moved from the midfield to right back, had his hands full with Pavón early in the game, drawing a yellow card in the 19th minute. He undercut Pavón on a hard challenge minutes later for which he was lucky not to have received a second caution and an ejection.
Pavón had the last laugh, though, opening the scoring in the 51st minute after running onto Emiliano Insúa’s soft pass up the left wing at the edge of the penalty area. When LAFC keeper Pablo Sisniega came way off his line to challenge Pavón, he chipped a shot over his head and into the center of the net for his fifth goal in six games.
“We follow his lead. In a lot of ways,” Lletget said of Pavón.
A couple of minutes later, Mark-Anthony Kaye came in hard on the Galaxy’s Julian Araujo, catching him on the ankle with his cleats. He did a draw a red card, leaving LAFC to play a man down and swinging the game comfortably in favor of the Galaxy, who outshot LAFC 7-3 in the second half.
Lletget doubled the advantage in the 73rd minute on a well-designed set piece that saw Pavón send a low free kick to the penalty spot, where Lletget spun and with his first touch sent the ball just inside the near post.
Lletget capped the scoring 10 minutes later on a brilliant bicycle kick, leaping into the air with his back to the goal to one-hop in a cross from Rolf Feltscher with his right foot. The goal was his third in the Galaxy’s four-game win streak.
“It’s something that you always dream about,” Lletget said of the bicycle kick. “I got the ball like that, hit it like that. And when it’s a rivalry or a clasico game, it’s something very special.”
LAFC found huge pockets in the Galaxy defense in the early going but lost two good scoring opportunities to offside calls and saw two others thwarted on excellent saves by Bingham, two of a season-high seven he made in extending his scoreless streak against LAFC to 180 minutes.
He is the only keeper to shut out LAFC more than once.
“He answered very good in the first half when he had to act,” Schelotto said of Bingham. “He played very focused. He gave [us] a lot a of security.