Zlatan's epic hat trick lifts Galaxy past LAFC in one-way Tráfico

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (right) stood tall as the Galaxy beat LAFC and remained without a loss in El Tráfico. (Reuters)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (right) stood tall as the Galaxy beat LAFC and remained without a loss in El Tráfico. (Reuters)

CARSON, Calif. — You don’t have to like it. You could hate it as much as you want. But you will respect it.

After a week of Los Angeles Galaxy superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic throwing shade at LAFC star Carlos Vela, his team, Major League Soccer and anyone else in his way, it was finally time for round 4 of El Tráfico.

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Ibra’s psychological warfare was planned all along. He was in the driver’s seat and knew exactly what he was doing. In front of a sold-out crowd Friday at Dignity Health Sports Park, he took over this Los Angeles rivalry once again, shrugging off the noise with a masterful hat trick in a 3-2 victory over crosstown rival LAFC.

Ibrahimovic called himself “a Ferrari among Fiats” in an interview ahead of the showdown, among other arrogant comments casual fans in the United States may not be accustomed to like the international audience.

Then he backed it up. After coming off the bench to score twice and beat LAFC in his MLS debut last year, Ibrahomivc outdid himself.

That’s four games now between the Galaxy and LAFC, and four times the Galaxy haven’t lost, winning twice and drawing twice as well.

You honestly couldn’t come up with a more compelling script if you tried. Regardless if you’re driving north or south on the 110 freeway or despite everything leading into the game, you really can’t predict what you are about to witness when these teams take the field to face each other.

Vela is the leading scorer in MLS and the frontrunner for this season’s MVP, and four minutes in, he showed why he’s deserving of those accolades. The LAFC captain converted from the penalty spot, becoming the fastest player to 20 goals in MLS history (highlights via ESPN):

That was no big deal for the Galaxy, who have seen multiple early deficits against the Black and Gold. What mattered was they didn’t care to lose their undefeated record in the derby.

Not if Ibrahimovic had a say in it.

Moments after Vela’s goal, the lion roared loudly enough for all of Los Angeles to hear. Ibra exquisitely brought down a long Julian Araujo pass with a defender on his back, and without letting the ball hit the ground flicked it right over Eduard Atuesta’s head, ripping an unreal shot from outside the box to the left of Tyler Miller.

In true Zlatan fashion, he ran right toward the LAFC bench and celebrated ferociously in front of Bob Bradley.

Oh, he was just getting started.

In the 56th minute, Diego Polenta, who was a defensive monster roughing up Vela all night, picked out Ibrahimovic towering over Jordan Harvey for an effortless go-ahead header.

Momentum, shifted. Advantage, Galaxy. As he’s done so many times.

Ibra wasn’t done yet.

LAFC defenders, chasing as they did most of the game, gave Zlatan a bit of space and he put his stamp on another epic moment in his career, firing home his third of the night from distance.

Vela added a late goal in stoppage time, and LAFC still leads the Western Conference (and MLS as a whole) with 46 points, while the Galaxy sit second on 37.

But that didn't matter. There was no doubt who the night belonged to.

“M-V-P” and “you can’t beat us” chants echoed through the stadium from Galaxy supporters. It was a party led by the captain, as he envisioned. This is his city and we’re just living in it.

MLS, welcome to Zlatan, again. Turns out Ferraris are faster and flashier than Fiats.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (center) had LAFC's number yet again in the Galaxy's El Tráfico win. (Reuters)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (center) had LAFC's number yet again in the Galaxy's El Tráfico win. (Reuters)

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