In 2019, the playoff battle between LAFC v. LA Galaxy ended dramatically, with LAFC the victor, 5-3. The match envenomed the enmity between the cross-county rivals. In 2022, El Tráfico hit the postseason for a galvanizing second edition.
Thursday night, the conference semifinal pinned compatriots Carlos Vela versus Javier Hernández– eminent El Tri veterans playing against each other in the MLS Cup. The LA derby showdown unfurled with friction in front of a capacity crowd. Banc of California Stadium – located between ‘Historic South Central’ and ‘South Figueroa Corridor’ – reverberated with anthems as Angelenos repped the ‘City of Angels.’
Ultimately, LAFC claimed their territory, defeating the Galaxy 3-2 in the 17th edition of El Tráfico.
Match Recap – LAFC and LA Galaxy
Galaxy coach Gregg Venney mirrored Steve Cherundolo’s 4-3-3 with an identical formation. Gareth Bale was unavailable as a substitute due to injury. As expected, the match contained box-to-box excitement, with both teams eager to retaliate.
Early doors, Carlos Vela, botched a free kick wide of the near post. Riqui Puig commanded the central midfield as the Galaxy held possession. Then, Puig feigned a foul on the run. However, the former Barcelona star lost his temper, grazing Jesús Murillo with his forehead after the defender accused him of diving. The snakebit Puig conceded a cautionary yellow, causing him to play timidly for the rest of the match.
Then, a blitz from the Galaxy led to a cross from Hernández off the flank. A follow-up attempt off a deflection led to a shot by Samuel Grandsir that plummeted off the crossbar.
However, LAFC retaliated remarkably on transition. A triangle pass commenced with the foot of Eddie Segura to Vela and Denis Bouanga, who shielded the ball, creating space for the finish, 1-0.
Minutes later, Chicharito took a crack inside the eighteen-yard box but got underneath the ball, shanking it into the bleachers. Then, Hollingshead located Vela with his back to the goal; instead of a one-touch wall-pass to Hollingshead for the shot, Vela scrambled. However, the ball deflected Jose Cifuentes, who neglected to wound up his placement shot – a harmless attempt on goal saved quickly by Englishman Jonathan Bond.
Nevertheless, the Galaxy tied the game in the penultimate minutes of the first half. Chicharito’s vertical run put pressure on LAFC’s back line. A poor clearance from Eddie Segura headed the ball on a silver platter for Samuel Grandsir, who buried it behind Maxime Crépeau, capitalizing on Segura’s error, 1-1.
2nd Half of Play
LAFC were the aggressors. However, miscalculated passes and miscommunications prevented any playmaking from coming to fruition. A few passes combined from the Galaxy created space for Puig, who took his second shot on target, putting Maxime Crépeau to the test. The Canadian goalkeeper came through with a frantic sliding save after a deflection on a set piece.
As a winger, Denis Bouanga tracked back, performing grueling defensive work. Left defender Diego Palacios was on the pounce, preventing Chicharito from attacking up the flank. By the 75th minute, the cautionary defense was the dominant strategy for both Cherundolo and Vanney. Cherundolo finished Carlos Vela’s night on what appeared to be a miscommunicated substitution request.
Suddenly, another triangle attack from LAFC. This time, Chicho Arango encountered a vector, locating Ryan Hollingshead on the flank, who crossed to Bouanga for a sitter, 2-1. Again, Bouanga’s positioning was impeccable, as he stayed onside with precise timing, securing a brace.
But the Galaxy displayed their perseverance. First, an unstoppable shot from Dejan Joveljić led to Crepeau’s manual dexterity, which extended to a spread-eagled leap. However, Joveljić’s skilled shot resulted in a screamer into the far post, 2-2.
Then, a brilliantly placed corner kick by Kellyn Acosta landed before a one-touch attempt by Bouanga, deflecting upon Chicho, who buried the ball into the roof of the goalmouth, 3-2.
The crowd erupted with elation. Cherundolo’s swift substitution replaced Chicho with Giorgio Chiellini. The Italian helped park the bus, creating a blockade until the final whistle.
Management & player acquisitions
In the 2022 season, LAFC ranked 6th in the MLS highest payroll. Toronto FC ranked first and failed to qualify for the playoffs altogether. Moreover, LA Galaxy ranked 2nd in payroll and was on the brink of qualifying as a fourth seed. Therefore, LAFC has been falsely criticized for flaunting their money with player acquisitions; faulty reasoning suggests financial backing is the reason behind their success.
Ironically, not one player on their roster is on the top ’15 Best Paid MLS Players’ list. Yet, for LAFC, the pedigree on the field and erudite executives resulted in the Supporter’s Shield and a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
Undoubtedly, the ‘Man of the Match’ was Denis Bouanga. LAFC signed the Frenchman from Saint-Étienne in French Ligue 2. Since the acquisition, Bouanga had been off to a slow start in terms of scoring. However, his athletic prowess pierced through in every match with brio.
Inevitably, Bouanga would find his groove in the penultimate match of the regular season. His nascent ability continues to display future potential as silver-bullet for LAFC.
A Mash-Up Anthem
Last month, when B-Real from ‘Cypress Hill’ and Shavo from ‘System of a Down’ released the anthem “Reppin’ the City,” LAFC fans became invigorated with an official theme song. In conjunction with the ‘3252’ roaring ‘Dale, black & gold,’ the horde of LA-bred fútbol buffs electrified players with adrenaline spikes, transmuting the energy into obstinate determination to win the MLS Cup.
With the victory over the Galaxy, LAFC advanced to the Conference Finals on Oct. 30, where they will be formidable opponents against the winner of a Texas derby Austin v. FC Dallas this Sunday.
PHOTO: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire
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