Carson, Calif. (April 1, 2018) – Los Angeles Football Club fans woke up Sunday morning hoping yesterday’s 4-3 loss to the LA Galaxy was merely a stale April Fool’s joke. It was no joke. For all the fanfare and expectations, the Los Angeles Derby (El Tráfico as it has been dubbed) lived up to the billing. LAFC jogged confidently into halftime winning “dos a cero” and, as their supporters’ section reminded everyone, went up “tres a cero” after an early second-half own goal. Then came the “ole’s” as LAFC arrogantly passed the ball around in their own half. Consequently, the LAFC fans did something the Galaxy supporters could not: they invigorated the Galaxy. 3-1. 3-2. And then, a few Zlatan moments later, and the final whistle concluded what is, to date, the most watched MLS regular season game ever.
— FOX Sports PR (@FOXSportsPR) April 1, 2018
In the Battle for Los Angeles, LA Galaxy Reign Supreme
The First Half Winners: LAFC
The game started off as expected. Both teams came out in mirrored 4-2-3-1 formations. However, the LA Galaxy played the 90-minute contest without any of their three designated players. Romain Alessandrini and both dos Santos brothers were still recovering from their respective leg injuries, so they were left out of the 18.
From the opening whistle, LAFC looked like the team with five MLS Cup championships. They attacked swiftly without concern. Conversely, the LA Galaxy looked lethargic as if the moment was too big for some of the starting XI.
Carlos Vela Set the Tone
LAFC forward Carlos Vela looked the best of all. The Mexican international picked out winger Latif Blessing for an early shot on goal after dribbling right through the heart of the Galaxy. Moments later, Steven Beitashour cleaned up a Galaxy clearance and sent it to Vela’s feet. After a quick touch inside, Vela curled the ball over and around Galaxy keeper David Bingham. With a brush stroke of excellence, LAFC 1, LA Galaxy 0.
After the goal, the game would stay in the middle of the field for the next 20-minutes. The Galaxy would dominate possession, but LAFC head coach Bob Bradley had his side sitting in compactly. This is something he had them do in the opener in Seattle as they nursed home a 1-0 victory.
How there were four players on Rossi, but nobody thought to mark Vela is still scary. The defense needs work. pic.twitter.com/E3dWzjU20c
— Thomas (@Mr_TP22) April 2, 2018
Vela, remembering Giovani dos Santos’ goal in the 2011 Gold Cup final, calmly settled the ball. He then spun around, took a few touches, and then neatly kissed the ball off the crossbar and past the goal-line. Dos a cero.
A late Galaxy attack as the half expired notwithstanding, LAFC looked destined to plant their flag at the StubHub Center if they could maintain their momentum through the last 45-minutes.
The Second Half Winners: LA Galaxy
Continuing with their jet-setting counter-attack, LAFC caught the Galaxy sleeping again in the 48th minute. With the Galaxy maintaining meaningless possession in the midfield, Ureña took advantage of Ashley Cole being caught upfield and dribbled deep to the Galaxy byline.
Seriously, does anybody on the Galaxy believe in marking Vela? pic.twitter.com/U4PC9B0nqg
— Thomas (@Mr_TP22) April 2, 2018
Noticing the (once again) unmarked Vela, Ureña attempted a square ball, but Galaxy Defender Daniel Steres had other plans. Steres skillfully put a first-time shot off his own post and past Bingham. Tres a cero.
Again, the Galaxy responded by controlling the ball in the midfield like a team defending a late lead. There was no urgency, and the fans around the StubHub Center were visibly bored and frustrated sans the LAFC supporters’ section. However, the same supporters’ section is responsible for the genesis of the Galaxy’s comeback. In the 60th minute, “ole’s” began to echo through the stadium. Suddenly, Galaxy midfielder Servando Carrasco caught LAFC midfielder Benny Feilhaber being careless and tackled the ball away before slipping Sebastian Lletget in on goal to slot home the Galaxy’s first goal of the game. LAFC 3, LA Galaxy 1.
And Then the Lion Entered
After the goal, the tone suddenly shifted. In the 64th minute, the LA Riot Squad (one of the Galaxy’s supporter groups) started to call for the lion. The rest of the stadium soon joined.
“We want Zlatan. We want Zlatan.”
And in the 71st minute, their wishes came true.
The newest Galaxy forward entered to a standing ovation as the 27,068 roared for their lion. Minutes later, the reinvigorated Galaxy tallied another goal as Ema Boateng dribbled through the center of the field. As the defense prepared for Zlatan to take over, Boateng cut through the LAFC defenders before dropping his cross onto the diving head of Chris Pontius. LAFC 3, LA Galaxy 2.
With the momentum fully tilted in the Galaxy’s direction, Zlatan Ibrahimovic delivered what will go down as one of the most iconic goals in both MLS and LA Galaxy history. After Zlatan fouled Carlos Vela, LAFC keeper Tyler Miller sent his free-kick into the Galaxy’s side of the field. Steres, in an act that would erase the memory of his own-goal, headed the ball back to the LAFC half. As the ball missed Ola Kamara’s dual, it bounced toward an unmarked Ibrahimovic. Zlatan then, in a moment that simply can’t be described by words (although I’ll try), raised his leg, dipped his toe, caught the ball in the air, and sent his volley perfectly screaming from 45-yards out. The shot curled over Miller’s head before hitting the back of the net and igniting the StubHub Center into a frenzy. LAFC 3, LA Galaxy 3.
Then the Lion Finished his Meal
After the wonder goal, LAFC began to push forward in search of a response. They narrowly missed their winner during the game’s final ten minutes. Both Ureña and substitute Eduard Atuesta would miss opportunities to regain the lead with Ureña’s ricocheting off the post behind David Bingham.
Subsequently, it looked like neither team would settle for the draw. Eventually, Ashley Cole gave his captain’s contribution. He ran on to a lofted pass from Baggio Husidic and sent a perfect cross to the near post. Waiting for him was the 6’5 Ibrahimovic, who flicked a headed ball over Tyler Miller and into the history books.
The Real Winners: The Fans
In only the second time in MLS history, a team overcame a 3-0 deficit to win. For the first time in MLS history, that feat included Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a quarrelsome derby. The game allowed for beautiful goals to be scored by both sides. World-class international superstars, Vela and Ibrahimovic, played in opposition. There was a dubious own-goal. There was an epic momentum swing to start the comeback. And, there was a questionable non-call on the Zlatan winner.
— Stuart Holden (@stuholden) April 1, 2018
There were angry fans who contentiously fought their way into the back of a cop car. More importantly, there were calm fans who jovially embraced the rivalry as well. Either way, the stadium sang for 90-minutes. Indeed, there was a buzz in the air that was truly palpable.
At last, this rivalry matchup lived up to its billing. The Galaxy put on a gutty performance and came away with the victory.
However, they will need to be better and get healthier if they plan to use this victory as a springboard to their sixth MLS Cup.