LAFC finally lands haymaker in burgeoning rivalry with Galaxy

Carlos Vela scored twice as LAFC finally beat the Galaxy for the first time in six tries. (Reuters)
Carlos Vela scored twice as LAFC finally beat the Galaxy for the first time in six tries. (Reuters)

LOS ANGELES — Will Ferrell and Magic Johnson were shown on the big screen in pure elation around the 83rd minute of Thursday’s MLS Cup playoff game. They smiled, clapped and followed along as the 3252 supporters group orchestrated the raucous “jump for L.A. football club” chant.

Soon after, the Banc of California Stadium echoed olé like a chorus as LAFC pieced together a lengthy series of touches with Los Angeles Galaxy players feverishly trying to stop the sequence.

When Galaxy midfielder Romain Alessandrini spiked the ball on the sideline in stoppage time protesting a call, the LAFC shout doubled in power.

Those felt like the crowning moments. It finally happened.

Five chances at Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Co. weren’t friendly for the Black and Gold, but that sixth one will be remembered for a while, maybe even become part of lore depending on how the next few weeks turn out. Two goals apiece from Carlos Vela and Adama Diomande, and one from Diego Rossi, helped LAFC to a 5-3 victory over the Galaxy, their first ever triumph against the crosstown rivals.

Weight lifted off the shoulders of the 2019 Supporters’ Shield winners.

“More is written about it than the time that we spend thinking about it,” said manager Bob Bradley. “But obviously somewhere along the line you just need to do it. We just had confidence, we never spent time talking about the other games. Nobody ever said, ‘What’s it gonna take to finally beat them?’ We all knew that it was our time, that was simple.”

Diego Rossi (9) and the LAFC faithful celebrated this one long into the night. (Getty)
Diego Rossi (9) and the LAFC faithful celebrated this one long into the night. (Getty)

Let’s be clear, nothing about these two teams clashing is ever simple.

The short-lived rivalry has already seen a combined 32 goals and produced some of the most memorable moments in MLS history. Thursday’s edition was the first in the playoffs, which catapulted anticipation to heights this league possibly hasn’t seen before. When that final whistle in Minnesota secured the Galaxy’s 2-1 first-round victory, everybody already knew what was up next.

Fans of the Black and Gold were nervous going in, but how many punches can you take before eventually hitting back harder?

The first one they took was Ibrahimovic’s welcome-to-MLS moment in March 2018, with an absurd goal from distance and then the winner. The second was Andre Horta’s dreadful back pass that July which resulted in a Galaxy equalizer.

On July 19 of this year, it was Ferrari Zlatan’s hat trick that delivered the blow after a week full of yapping to the media. Even the 3-3 draw on August 25 left a bitter taste for LAFC, having conceded three goals in 16 minutes at home before rally from two down.

The balance of history tips heavily in the Galaxy’s favor, and it briefly seemed like it was heading down the same path Thursday. Vela got his brace in 40 minutes and before the celebratory smoke could clear, Cristian Pavón put one in the back of the net to cut the deficit. A worrisome goalkeeping mistake by Tyler Miller in the 55th granted Ibrahimovic the equalizer.

Cristian Pavón's goal immediately after LAFC went up 2-0 revived some uncomfortable emotions at Banc of California Stadium. (Reuters)
Cristian Pavón's goal immediately after LAFC went up 2-0 revived some uncomfortable emotions at Banc of California Stadium. (Reuters)

Except this fight had towering implications and LAFC, taking the Galaxy’s jabs, countered with haymakers. Rossi eventually put them back ahead and Diomande came off the bench to deliver the knockout.

“At some moment, against your biggest rival, when obviously everything is at stake, to see those guys respond at 2-2? Man, that was awesome,” Bradley said. “That’s such a step for this group.”

Aside from advancing to Western Conference final, the win was about adding another level to the Clasico Angelino. This week saw the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers tip off an anticipated NBA season down the street at Staples Center, and even that might have fallen short of El Tráfico’s buzz. Evidence can be found in performances and ticket prices. LeBron James and Anthony Davis were lackluster by their standards and the Lakers chalked up the loss as just “1 of 82.”

Thursday’s L.A. Derby might’ve just been one of six so far, with many more to come, but it was the one.

“Every game here at the Banc is enjoyed in a special way,” Rossi said. “All of our games are played with a full stadium and that’s very important for us. Obviously a rivalry game is different. It’s a different atmosphere and it was awesome to experience it here in our house and be able to win for so many that deserved it.”

Those that waited over a year for this moment certainly cherished it, perhaps even forgetting it was a weekday. Well after midnight there were still fans outside dancing and drinking. One held his pointer finger in the air and just let if fly: “It’s about f—-ing time!”

As for Galaxy fans — and there were many in attendance that made up the sold-out crowd of 22,902 — it’s at least not a long trip home. Next shot at LAFC won’t be for a while, but best believe the majority of those supporters will be rooting for the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday. Because that’s what a true rivalry is about.

The natural animosity of two teams from the same city won’t ever fade. It gets stronger with every game. But whether it’s the heart of the city or Carson, one thing you will always see are fans of both teams enjoying the beers, the weather, the company and most importantly the banter. A passionate culture has blossomed from this rivalry and MLS is basking in it, hoping to see continued progress.

“Excellent once again,” said Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto. “There’s a very good soccer rivalry and hopefully it can continue.”

It will go on, as will the arguments and results. And with Zlatan’s likely departure, El Tráfico might look completely different for Round 7. One thing that won’t change is the spectacle. All you have to do is ask anyone involved how much these games mean.

“I’m just happy to win that match that’s been ghosting us for a long time now,” Diomande said.

He continued before getting that final dig in.

“[We’re] the best team in Los Angeles.”

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