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LAFC’s El Tráfico win over Galaxy could jump start its season


It’s a cliché to say records mean little in a rivalry game. But it’s a cliché that endures because it’s true.

Consider the LAFC-Galaxy rivalry, which, in seven short seasons, has already become the premier grudge match in MLS despite the fact that the teams have spent much of that time heading in opposite directions.

Since joining the league in 2018, LAFC has won two Supporters’ Shields, played in two CONCACAF Champions League finals and won an MLS Cup. No team in the Western Conference has won more games, earned more points or scored more goals.

Over that same span, the Galaxy have lost more games than they have won, given up way more goals than they have scored and made just two playoff appearances.

Given those results, the El Tráfico derby should be more rout than rivalry. Yet the reality is no team in MLS has beaten LAFC more often than the Galaxy.

Now that tide is beginning to turn. With Saturday’s 2-1 win at a sold-out BMO Stadium, LAFC has won five of the last six MLS matchups with its rival.

And given the records in this latest victory, in a well-played game worthy of a derby, it may soon prove to be the most important one.

The Galaxy were unbeaten and leading their neighbor in the standings heading into El Tráfico for the first time since 2021. LAFC, meanwhile, had more losses than wins and was coming off an epic collapse in Colorado, where it gave up two goals in the final seven minutes of regulation to lose.

As a result, Saturday’s win may be just the kick start the team needed to turn that around.

“This victory was really important for the team,” said Denis Bouanga, whose penalty-kick goal late in the first half proved to be the difference. “We’re going to build on this.”

For the Galaxy, meanwhile, how they rebound from their first loss of the year will not only test their mettle, but their ability to adjust as well because LAFC’s bend-but-don’t-break game plan was a master class in how to beat the Galaxy, one every other MLS team is sure to study.

Although LAFC ceded possession, setting up in a low block that allowed the Galaxy to control the ball for more than an hour of the 90 minutes and complete more than twice as many passes, LAFC was far more dangerous, outshooting the Galaxy 19-18 and putting nearly half those tries on target.

“The game shaped up kind of how we wanted,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said. “We knew that [the] Galaxy was quite a potent offense this year and are very dangerous with space in behind. Taking that away does take something away from their attack as well, which could also possibly open them up for counterattacks, one of the weaker parts of their game.

“Every system, every team has weaknesses and strengths. And it’s always ‘can we apply a game plan to exploit those weaknesses and highlight our strengths?’ And I think we did that.”

LAFC exploited another Galaxy weakness on its first goal, with Timothy Tillman scoring off an Ilie Sánchez corner kick in the fourth minute. Of the 11 goals the Galaxy have allowed this season, five have come off corners — another weakness the team will have to fix.

Bouanga’s game-winning penalty into the center of the net — which came after a controversial call from referee Jon Freemon — was also aided by some advanced scouting since it came against John McCarthy, his LAFC teammate the past season and a half.

“I knew that John knew me. Because last year, when we where practicing, he was staying at the end of practice to stop my penalties,” Bouanga said through an interpreter. “Everyone knows that I usually shoot on the left. But I shot where I wanted to shoot today.”

LAFC (3-3-1) and the Galaxy (3-1-3) will meet twice more in the regular season, on July 4 at the Rose Bowl, where the teams drew more than 82,000 fans a year ago, and in September at Dignity Health Sports Park. For Cherundolo, who spent his playing career in Germany, where rivalry games date back decades, the passion that already surrounds the LAFC-Galaxy derby is something MLS needs to capture and promote.

“I’ve always been a proponent of trying to make things better and make our football better,” he said. “Make games more exciting for fans and to win fans overseas. But the only way to do that is to increase the quality on the field.

“Not with advertising or anything like that. The only thing that matters is the quality on the field.”

McCarthy, one of just two men to have played on both sides of the Southern California rivalry, said the derby has shown no signs of weakening despite the fact the teams have met 22 times since 2018.

“A derby is a derby. Doesn’t matter what side you’re on,” he said. “These are games that you want to be a part of — big-time games. And you want to win these games.

“They are just cool games to be a part of.”

Regardless of the records.

You have read the latest installment of On Soccer with Kevin Baxter. The weekly column takes you behind the scenes and shines a spotlight on unique stories. Listen to Baxter on this week’s episode of the Corner of the Galaxy podcast.


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