Heading into the final regular season matchup of El Trafico 2023, LAFC and the LA Galaxy came into the match in positions that did not necessarily reflect its respective positions in the Western Conference.
The Galaxy, who are below the conference playoff line, were actually going in with some momentum, as they came in unbeaten in its last four matches, with its most recent result coming last Sunday, when they came back from a two-goal deficit to draw conference-leading St. Louis City SC. LAFC meanwhile came into this match mired in a three-game losing streak, and with one point separating spots two through six in the conference, LAFC knew another loss could put them in a real bind heading into the stretch run of the regular season.
However, when 90 minutes were up at BMO Stadium, LAFC had restored order on Saturday night, even as the match itself provided the fleury of goals and drama that had come to be associated with this rivalry. Denis Bouanga was the catalyst as his brace combined with goals from Ryan Hollingshead and Timothy Tillman, plus the return of keeper Maxime Crepeau to the starting 11, enabled LAFC to end its brief rough patch with a 4-2 win.
“I still believe in our players and how we interpret this game and how we train the guys and how we prepare for matches,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said “Sometimes in games things don’t go your way, there are things in life that happen – these are all human beings, a lot going on, and sometimes it doesn’t click during games. So that comforts me every day to see all of the training sessions and its like riding a bike – the qualities that the players have, they don’t go away. Sometimes you get a flat tire but its easy to fix.”
The win allows LAFC (12-9-7, 43 points) to jump into second place in the conference, one point ahead of Seattle. More importantly, the three points keeps LAFC in the race for the top spot in the conference, as they are six points behind St. Louis heading into a massive match between them and STL City in the Gateway City on Wednesday night.
“We know we have that DNA, and it’s the type of team that you need to go far in this league and to win trophies,” Hollingshead said. “I think now at this stretch of where we’ve been, the kind of season we’ve had, the amount of side tournaments we’ve been fighting for. To show that resiliency now, I think it’s going to be huge for us as we make a push for top spot in the West, make a push for the MLS Cup. So, yeah, really proud of the guys.”
Tied at two, LAFC won the game late in the second half. LAFC was gifted the go-ahead goal in the 75th minute, and it started when Hollingshead sent a forward ball, Stipe Biuk chased the ball down, but Galaxy defender Chris Mavinga looked to have the play defended well, and he sent a backwards pass. The pass however was a bad one, and Bouanga pounced, as he got possession of the ball, then rounded keeper Jonathan Bond and sent the shot into the back net to put LAFC back in front. Tillman then provided the cushion for LAFC in the 84th minute, as Mario Gonzalez led an LAFC counterattack, played a ball to Tillman on his right side, Tillman touched into the penalty area, then fired the shot past Bond into the back net to virtually seal the three points for LAFC.
“I think overall, it definitely wasn’t a good performance for us, Galaxy midfielder Diego Fagundez said. “I think we need to be better on the ball defensively. We need to be better, but that’s everybody.”
The opening stages of the match saw the back-and-forth between the two side that have become a staple in the rivalry. LAFC struck first in the 24th minute, as Palacios sent a left-footed cross, and it turned out to be perfect, as Bouanga jumped and cleanly headed a ball past Bond. That lead however last just a minute, as the Galaxy quickly took the ball downfield, Marky Delgado played a ball to Diego Fagundez, who then passed to Sharp, and Sharp turned and fired the quick shot that beat Crepeau near post for the equalizer.
“It was the first touch of the game and it was a good reaction from us as a group,” Sharp said of is goal. “To concede a goal, to get back in the game was very pleasing.”
LAFC retook the lead in the 33rd minute. Carlos Vela sent a ball that may or may not have been intended for Hollingshead, but the right back gained possession of the ball, then took a touch before he fired a left-footed volley from just outside the penalty area that beat Bond. LAFC took the lead into halftime, but the Galaxy had another equalizer in them, and it came in the 59th minute, as Fagundez crossed into the penalty area, Tyler Boyd headed a ball towards the six-yard box and Maya Yoshida finished the play off, as he headed a ball just outside the six past Crepeau to level matters once more.
Saturday’s match also marked the return of Crepeau to the pitch. It was 10 months since Crepeau broke his leg in the MLS Cup final on a collision with the Philadelphia Union’s Cory Burke. Since then, it has been a long road back to recovery for Crepeau both physically and mentally, as the injury caused Crepeau to miss out on the World Cup. Still, Crepeau kept at it, going through the rehabilitation process and training with LAFC’s reserves until he as fit enough to return to the starting 11, which finally happened on Saturday. Aside from the two Galaxy goal, Crepeau actually did not have to do much in the match.
“It was a long road; I will tell you that,” Crepeau said. “It was super long. Lots of ups and lots of downs during
these ten months. It has been quite a ride but physical and mentally I felt pretty good out there. It was a great feeling to be out with my teammates and to compete.”
The Galaxy also have a midweek match, though they will play int he friendly confines of home, as they welcome Minnesota United to Dignity Health Sports Park.