MLS playoffs: Cristian Arango drills 93rd-minute winner in thriller vs. Galaxy as LAFC advances

Los Angeles FC forward Cristian Arango, center, celebrates after scoring on LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, lying on ground, during the second half of an MLS playoff soccer match Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, in Los Angeles. Los Angeles FC won 3-2. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Los Angeles FC forward Cristian Arango, center, celebrates after scoring on LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, lying on ground, during the second half of an MLS playoff soccer match Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, in Los Angeles. Los Angeles FC won 3-2. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

LOS ANGELES — How does this always happen?

Whatever thoughts or predictions you might have about El Tráfico, scrap those. These games are as unpredictable as it gets, and Thursday’s playoff slugfest between LAFC and the Los Angeles Galaxy at Banc of California Stadium was just another chapter of this absurd rivalry.

LAFC drew first blood when Carlos Vela brilliantly found Denis Bouanga inside the box and Bouanga found the back of the net to put the home team up 1-0. The Galaxy answered before the half as Samuel Grandsir scored the equalizer off a bad clearance by Eddie Segura.

LAFC looked to have it won in the 80th minute with a go-ahead goal by Denis Bouanga. Five minutes later, just seconds after entering the game, Dejan Joveljić scored an absolutely stunning goal from distance to equalize it once again.

Back and forth, as has become custom in these games.

In stoppage time LAFC was awarded a late corner kick as the stadium rose and noise intensified. The ball found Bouanga towards the far post and he ripped a shot that was saved by goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, but Cristian "Chicho" Arango was there to slot home the rebound in the 93rd minute.

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"An exciting match, a little advertisement for MLS. I think that's MLS at its best," said head coach Steve Cherundolo. "A lot of goals, exciting futbol, emotions, passion — two teams giving everything they have."

These games always find a way to be tense and this one certainly didn’t disappoint. The Supporters’ Shield winners will now host Austin FC in the Western Conference final at Banc of California Stadium.

"It’s a great place to be, our fans are absolutely incredible and this was a fantastic gift for them tonight," Cherundolo said. "It’s always tough to beat the Galaxy no matter where it is — at their place, our place or possibly the Rose Bowl."

The next time they're set to meet is at the iconic stadium in Pasadena, California to open the 2023 season.

As for the rivalry, LAFC will relish in the fact that the two playoffs games in El Trafico history have been victories for them that have also put a miserable end to the Galaxy's season.

"We showed that Los Angeles is Black and Gold," said goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau. "And not white, or blue, or yellow, or whatever."