Los Angeles – The unthinkable has happened. After six seasons, 18 attempts, and numerous leads wasted, LAFC finally got over their usual mental meltdown and beat the Los Angeles Galaxy at Dignity Health Sports Park. However, instead of the ignominious date, March 16, 2023, going down in El Tráfico lore like Zlatan’s debut or LAFC’s first-ever win over the Galaxy, it will be a mere footnote.
This is instead of the lopsided, statement-making defeat, many predicted, one of the injustices of sport happened; the clearly-better team lost. The world watched a supposedly dead Galaxy dominate their city rivals. Unfortunately, they also saw a microcosm of LA’s season, self-inflicted errors led to a 3-2 loss, despite being clearly superior on the day.
LA Galaxy Post Match – Galaxy Dominate, But Lose
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) April 16, 2023
Another Bright Start Wasted
The Galaxy started brightly in this game, just as they did in their previous match against Houston. And just like then, they could not take their chances against LAFC early. It led to another familiar scene in LA’s season. Losing the ball, getting caught in transition, and conceding a goal against the run of play. The beneficiary of the Galaxy’s wasteful habit this time? Carlos Vela.
A Gaston Brugman giveaway led to an LAFC counterattack that the Galaxy initially seemed to deal with. Vela, though, was in the right spot to pick up the deflection. The ball fell to him on his favored left foot, and he paused just slightly before striking a sweet, curling shot past Jonathan Klinsmann for the game’s first goal and the 1-0 LAFC lead in the 22-minute.
“We punished ourselves today. We killed ourselves today,” Galaxy Head Coach Greg Vanney admitted in a press conference postmatch. “And that’s unfortunate, against a good team that has momentum in their favor. The first goal, we give the ball away right in front of us, then just start to transition, you know, we’re trying to manage it. You manage the first one, and it pops back out, a little unlucky maybe, but, it is what it is. The ball goes wide, and you don’t want [Carlos] Vela in that situation. We’ve seen that goal 200 times over his career, probably. And now we’re down 1-0.”
The rest of the first half would be a physical, testy affair until Tyler Boyd’s moment of magic just before halftime evened the score. The winger took a seemingly harmless Brugman pass in the midfield and turned to his right. Boyd took a touch before launching a 35-yard rocket that stung LAFC Goalkeeper John McCarthy’s hands. McCarthy could not keep the blast out, though, and the game would go into the half tied 1-1.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 16, 2023
Galaxy Stand Firm
The Galaxy started the second half with heart and momentum after Boyd’s strike. But just like it hasn’t been all season, luck wasn’t with them. An injury to Center Back Chris Mavinga in the 58-minute meant Séga Coulibaly would replace him for Coulibaly’s first minutes of the season in perhaps the team’s biggest game so far. It would only take him 10 minutes to become a central figure in the match. A bad Raheem Edwards throw-in across the face of the goal left Coulibaly badly exposed. He had no choice but to stick out a leg and caught Jose Cifuentes as a result. Referee Armando Villarreal did not hesitate to point to the penalty spot, where Vela made it 2-1 again for LAFC in the 68-minute.
Two minutes later, LAFC were back at it. They were able to earn a corner from a bad Coulibaly turnover in the midfield. Vela would swing in a hanging cross that Ryan Hollingshead was able to beat Mark Delgado, to head home and increase the LAFC lead to 3-1.
And this was the crucial moment. The Galaxy was able to withstand further pressure and stand firm in the face of the tide. All of which would set up another typical El Tráfico ending.
— Alex Ruiz (@AlxRuiz15) April 17, 2023
Typical El Tráfico Ending
It wouldn’t be an El Tráfico without late drama. And this one didn’t disappoint. After tons of Galaxy pressure led to Javier “Chicharito” Hernández wasting a glorious pass from Riqui Puig in the 82-minute for a chance to cut the LAFC lead, Galaxy fans started heading for the exits. But no sooner had the exodus started, the fightback was on. Substitute Dejan Joveljić played a driven cross in from the right flank. The cross seemed destined for Chicharito, but the Galaxy captain let it roll to the back post, where Delgado met it and turned it home to cut the deficit to one goal.
The game seemed destined for a draw, as the Galaxy kept threatening through Puig, who hit the post with a driven shot that would have thrown the crowd into pandemonium. And although a draw would’ve been fair on the day, it wasn’t meant to be, and LAFC were just able to hang on to get a 3-2 win. This despite, Puig protesting for a handball in the final moments of the match that Villarreal calmly waved off while he ended the match.
“We outworked them, we dominated them, but we did the mistakes that they didn’t do. As simple as that,” Chicharito confessed.
Yes, an El Tráfico loss hurts for the Galaxy. But the way the players finally defended the badge on the shirt should encourage Galaxy fans. None defended it more than Puig, who was active and ornery throughout the cagey contest.
— Christian Miles (@cmilessports) April 16, 2023
Defending the Badge – Riqui Puig
Puig claimed at the beginning of the season, that he would be challenging for MVP honors this season. The Catalan has put up some good numbers to be sure; but to little result. The Galaxy attack had been slow, predictable, and ineffective. And as the quarterback of the attack, most of the blame should lie at Puig’s feet.
Against LAFC though, Puig showed the player he can be when he is at his best. And not only with his performance with the ball. There was a moment in the second half, when the Galaxy was seeking the tie, that Puig seemed to have a go at the crowd, even flipping those in front of him the bird. It served to strike up the home support, who could sense that Puig was calling upon them.
His performance should have yielded more. Only a post and Chicharito’s wastefulness, kept Puig from having a goal, a couple of assists, and potential man-of-the-match honors in what should have been the Galaxy’s first win of the season. He’ll need to play like this again for the Galaxy to get their first win against Austin FC next Saturday at home.
Riqui Puig created the most chances (4)in the match
Riqui Puig completed the most dribbles (8)in the match
Riqui Puig completed the most passes (83)in the match
Riqui Puig won the most duels (10)in the match
Wait what? Duels? Yeah you heard that right!pic.twitter.com/VhPFWEhPAI
— The FTBL Index (@TheFootballInd) April 17, 2023
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