MLS notebook: Galaxy once again punctuate upper hand in El Trafico

The anticipation for this installment of El Trafico was just different. It was finally going to be Carlos Vela and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez going against each other for the first time in MLS. The longtime friends hadn’t faced off since 2013 Champions League group stage matches between Manchester United and Real Sociedad. They dominated the headlines all week from California to Mexico.

And after all that and a full 90 minutes of madness Saturday in Carson, it came down to the final moments. Deep into stoppage, time Latif Blessing silenced the sold-out crowd at Dignity Health Sports Park after scoring the equalizer in a draw ... until referee Chris Penso went to video review and overturned the call due to offside.

The stadium erupted in celebration as chaos ensued and soon was brought to a conclusion. Galaxy win, 2-1, over LAFC.

As much as personnel has changed over the years, the rivalry continues delivering in the most ridiculous ways. And the one constant that remains is the Galaxy have the upper hand, with six wins to LAFC's three in 14 all-time meetings.

How these meetings always seem to unfold is so comical it doesn’t make sense. LAFC typically play the better games, in terms of quality, chances and establishing their ideas vs. their rivals. That’s how they were under Bob Bradley, and it hasn’t changed with new head coach Steve Cherundolo. Saturday they did that for the majority of the game, yet found themselves scoreless for over 75 minutes before Cristian Arango cleaned up a rebound in the 79th minute.

Blessing’s goal, had it not been called off, would’ve felt like a bit of a victory for the Black and Gold. Cherundolo ran about 10 yards onto the field to celebrate it in the moment and was later issued one of the 10 total yellow cards of the game. VAR changed that energy quickly and left yet another sour taste for LAFC — a feeling they’ve become accustomed to in this clash.

“I don’t want to complain about it,” said LAFC midfielder Ilie Sanchez. “I think that we did everything to deserve at least the tie, if not more. But unfortunately this time we have to go home with no points.”

LAFC has still yet to win a game at Dignity Health Sports Park. That’s more telling than anything else. The Galaxy have seemingly had bragging rights from the very inception of the rivalry (see: Zlatan Ibrahimovic).

In the latest proverbial battle between superstars, Chicharito won. He scored the opening goal just 13 minutes in, marking his fifth of the season, tied for most thus far in the league.

Vela, who played well, had a goal called off for being offside. And in his best chance, point-blank against goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, he clanked it off the post.

Although the Mexican duo dominated a majority of the buzz, don't overlook Raheem Edwards playing the perfect revenge game, either. The Galaxy winger, who played for LAFC last season and was often the target of criticism, is now flourishing under coach Greg Vanney a few miles south. Not only was he integral in slowing down Vela and disrupting LAFC's attack, he also contributed on the offensive end with a few dribbles past former teammates. He was up for the challenge, and then some.

“These games are so high-intensity. The last 15 minutes I was dead. Dead, man,” said Edwards, the only player to appear for both teams in El Trafico. “Whether you wanted or not, there's always going to be drama.”

The problem for LAFC is the drama always tends to skew in one direction. They have the biggest win in this rivalry, a 5-3 victory in the 2019 MLS Cup playoffs. That’s a fun moment for fans to cling to, but that’s about where it ends. Of LAFC's three wins over the Galaxy, two were played with no fans in attendance due to COVID-19, and one was played in Orlando during MLS is Back two summers ago.

“These are games we have to win, and not just because it’s LAFC,” Vanney said. “That’s one part of it. Because they’re big, difficult, tough matches. There’s a lot of attention, they feel bigger, they’re emotional, and that’s what you have to do when you want to win trophies.”

One franchise has plenty of those, and the other is still seeking them. It’s no secret LAFC has disrupted the Galaxy since coming into the league, siphoning fans, shifting energy and investing big to become a powerhouse. On some level at least, they've succeeded. It’s must-watch when these teams play.

It means so much more.

“Great atmosphere, just an amazing progression of our sport,” Cherundolo said. “It took a lot out of both teams physically and mentally but I think it’s great, and I can’t wait for the next one.”

That will come July 8 at Banc of California Stadium. There’s a chance that Vela, the leading scorer in the series, might not even be with LAFC at that point as his contract is set to expire at the end of June.

But one thing will remain the same until LAFC changes it.

“We are fighting for the [pride] of the city,” Chicharito said Saturday. “And we got it.”

Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and the Galaxy still have the upper hand on LAFC in El Trafico, arguably the biggest rivalry in MLS. (Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images)

MLS notebook

Undefeated Union: Philadelphia stands alone as the only unbeaten team in MLS. They’ve won a club-record five straight games, including four consecutive shutouts. They got some help to keep those streaks alive this weekend as Columbus goalkeeper Eloy Room gifted them one of the worst own goals ever just two minutes into the game.

But that defense has only conceded twice this season and Andre Blake is in top form in net. With Toronto and Montreal up next on the schedule, there’s a real chance Philly can head to Nashville for the GEODIS Park opener on May 1 still undefeated.

Sounders chasing CCL history: Maybe this is actually the year an MLS team wins the CONCACAF Champions League.

It’s too fitting that Seattle is the squad closing in on that feat. They’ve been the league standard for years, winning two MLS Cups, four U.S. Open Cups, and a Supporters’ Shield. They are no stranger to the moment and it showed in the first leg of their semifinal clash with reigning MLS champs NYCFC. A pretty simple 3-1 win that could have — and probably should have — been more. And this is with their best scoring threat Raul Ruidiaz not even in top form.

That first leg result should be enough to propel the Sounders into the CCL final, where they'll try to push MLS over the hump vs. Liga MX opposition. All they have to do is take care of business on the road in the second leg. To their luck, and some New York misfortune, the game is being played at a neutral location at Red Bull Arena, because Yankee Stadium is scheduled to be used Wednesday by, you know, the Yankees.

Bangers only: People often exaggerate when using the word golazo, but it seems like we get one or a few weekly in MLS. We’ve already seen some gems this year — bicycle kicks, free kicks, etc. This weekend we got a pair that not only added to the list, they will for sure be in the conversation for end-of-year awards.

Charlotte FC’s Jordy Alcivar beat Brad Guzan with an Olimpico as the lone goal in a win over Atlanta United:

FC Dallas homegrown midfielder Brandon Servania also scored his third career goal, and it’ll be one to remember. They play their home games in Frisco, Texas, but it felt like he might’ve actually been standing in Dallas when he blasted that long-range rocket:

What y’all know about them Texas boys? Speaking of the Lone Star State, it was a clean sweep for the Texas teams this weekend. Most notably FC Dallas got a pair of goals from Jesus Ferreira, which is great news for USMNT fans. Another Ferreira, Sebastian, the Houston Dynamo Designated Player, also bagged a brace for his first two MLS goals as part of a 4-3 win over San Jose. And Austin FC closed it out at Q2 Stadium with a 1-0 shutout of Minnesota United, compliments of a Maxi Urruti strike.

Last year the three Texas teams finished at the bottom of the Western Conference. Right now they occupy the 4-6 spots of the table with 11 points each. Long road ahead, but this is a promising sign.

New Revolution, and not a good one: The Revs' Supporters’ Shield and MLS record-breaking season seems like such a distant memory at this point. It's been a dreadful start for New England, not only in league play but also factoring in their CONCACAF Champions League disaster, in which they blew a 3-0 first-leg lead and lost to UNAM on penalties in the quarterfinals.

Whether it’s injuries, players not in top form or weather conditions, everything has been poor for Bruce Arena’s squad. Simple mistakes have cost them late in a few games and leave the Revs with just four points. Much of last year’s personnel still remains in place so it’s shocking to see them playing below standards, lacking creativity, spark and cohesiveness.

If this is what the rebranded Revs are going to look like, bring back the crayon flag.