CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy played to a hard-fought 1-1 draw on Friday night in front 27,068 strong at StubHub Center. And promptly won the season series with upstarts Los Angeles Football Club in the first year of the El Tráfico rivalry.
And while the season series and the bragging rights remain with the Galaxy, for this season at least, the club still failed to make a significant move up the standings with just one point at home.
“It’s still a point. A point helps – it’s better than zero,” Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid explained to reporters after the game. “Winning the season series is important as well. I think this is the tenth season series we’ve won this year with teams (it’s the ninth). So if you can win the majority of your season series, that’s a good thing. We’ve still got some open accounts out there.”
But Galaxy goalscorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic — who netted his 499th career goal in the 15-minute of the match after a VAR review, and with help from goal line cameras installed by ESPN — saw it more harshly.
“We should have won easy,” he said. “I know when I played the games if the game was difficult I would say it. If the game was impossible I would say it. But the game was easy. We were much better than them until the final part of the field, where we should’ve destroyed them. But, yeah, we didn’t, and we gave them one point.”
The Galaxy (10-9-8) played the match without four starters and nearly $10.5-million in salary – nearly 61% of their total payroll – as Romain Alessandrini, Michael Ciani, and Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos all sat out with injuries.
And missing all three DP’s and that offensive talent may have hurt the Galaxy in the end.
Ibrahimovic was starved for dangerous service, and even when he did get the ball, LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller was up to the task.
“I think everything was good until we came to their box,” Ibrahimovic said. “The last pass was not good at all.
“This game we could win easy. It was an easy game. We were much better than them. I mean we had great chances but the last pass was totally opposite than what it should be. And we could have scored three-four to zero easy.”
LAFC (12-7-7) earned their only goal of the game in the second half. After they had pressured the Galaxy for the previous 25-minutes, Galaxy midfielder Perry Kitchen chased LAFC midfielder Carlos Vela into the box in the 51-minute. Vela baited Kitchen into leaving his feet and when Kitchen slid for the ball, Vela was taken down by a trailing foot.
It was an easy call on Kitchen and Vela buried the ball past Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham on the penalty.
Bingham, however, would come up with the biggest moment of the night outside of the two goals.
In the 72-minute, with the score still tied and LAFC again pressuring the Galaxy’s back line, Eduard Atuesta slotted a pass behind the Galaxy’s defense and onto the foot of Benny Feilhaber. Feilhaber was in alone on Bingham and tried to dribble around the ‘keeper, but Bingham reached out with a hand pushed the ball into Feilhaber’s feet, forcing a turnover and saving the day.
But really stood out for the Galaxy on the night was their increased physicality on defense. Sure the club ended the night with five yellow cards, but Schmid was impressed with the drive he saw from the entire team when it came to defense.
“We’ve been talking about it all week and I think we needed to do that,” Schmid said of the toughness from his backline. “And some guys stood up in terms of that (physicality).
“I think at times we’ve just been too soft and we haven’t used our strength – that doesn’t mean playing dirty or making fouls or anything. I know we led in yellow cards today.
“But Rolf (Feltscher) helps us because he’s a little more physical out there. I thought Jorgen (Skjelvik) played more physically today. Dave Romney played more physically today, as well,” Schmid continued. “And midfield, I think our challenges – we got tighter to people – and we were there. I mean obviously, Jair Marrufo let’s a very physical game play anyway, so that was something we talked about as well.”
The Galaxy have just seven games remaining on the schedule while the rest of the Western Conference sits at least a game behind. The Galaxy are in fourth place, for the time being, but sit outside the top six spots when sorted by points per game (1.41). And they’ll be spectators the rest of the weekend, and for a few other games down the final stretch, as the conference does its best to sort out the log-jam before the playoffs.
“I mean that’s the objective – to reach the playoff and not to win the series against LAFC because the focus is not them,” Ibrahimovic clarified. “The focus is the playoff. And then from the playoff, you take it further and try to win the whole thing.”
On the night the Galaxy will be cautiously proud of their defensive effort and will probably be shaking their head about the chances they failed to capitalize on in the final third.
But a series win against a rival, in an electric atmosphere, should still be seen as a step in the right direction for a struggling Galaxy side that can never seem to get every facet of their game working at the same time. And the heightened setting — a playoff preview if these two teams should meet — only added to the drama on the field.
“It’s a rivalry game for sure,” Schmid said of the atmosphere. “You could sense it. You could feel it.
“The playoffs were an important part of the game tonight because teams are fighting either for playoff position or to get into the playoffs, but certainly, it’s the rivalry that brought a lot of the intensity out.”