Zlatan Ibrahimovic scores in the LA Galaxy victory over LAFC on July 19, 2019 - Photo by Steve Carrillo
Steve Carrillo

Galaxy stay undefeated in El Trafico no matter the geography

CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy turned in their first 90-minute performance of the season on Friday night as they beat league-leading Los Angeles Football in a 3-2 victory.

With Dignity Health Sports Park filled to the brim with 27,088 supporters, and opposing fan bases wearing opposite colors, the atmosphere was nothing short of electric. And when the teams made it out for warmups, the sound was ear-splitting with both cheers and jeers from the early-arrivers.

The man of the match was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He scored three goals on the night while tallying his 14th, 15th, and 16th goals of the season. It was his second three-goal game since joining the league, and he has now scored 35 goals in just 43 games with the Galaxy.

But while LAFC had their hands full with Ibrahimovic, the Galaxy were confidently and calmly turning LAFC’s high-pressuring defense, into gaps and spaces to exploit.

Favio Alvarez was at fault for the turnover that led to the Carlos Vela penalty kick in the 4th-minute of the match, and the early deficit, but was also a key player in the Galaxy’s victory. Alvarez combined well with Jonathan dos Santos, and their pairing found holes and seams for dangerous attacks throughout the night.

17-year-old Julian Araujo, starting at midfield for the first time this season, was dangerous all night. He annoyed the LAFC attackers, caused turnovers, and assisted on Ibrahimovic’s first goal.

And the first goal of the night for Ibrahimovic was nearly as memorable as the first goal he ever scored in MLS.

Araujo was able to get to a ball that Ibrahimovic laid off and sent his high arching pass towards the tall Swede. Ibrahimovic touched the ball over and between two LAFC defenders and fired a right-footed shot in the right side fo the net and past LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller in the 8th minute.

Ibrahimovic would score again off an extremely technical cross from defender Diego Polenta in the 56th-minute. That’s where he would outjump LAFC defender Jordan Harvey, who had lost sight of the six-foot-five attacker, and head in his second goal of the night.

“When the ball comes into the box, I just try to stay focused and attack the ball,” Ibrahimovic told reporters about his mindset while scoring the goal. “Because I know I will win the headers and I’m strong there.

“And Diego (Polenta) did a fantastic cross because he was looking to do an outside curve, but they were blocking him. So he did an external curve instead, and it came perfect,” he continued. “And I won the ball, and it went in the header.

“I was pretty sure I would score there because I had a couple of headers like that.

And finally, it was a left-footed strike in the 70th-minute that was assisted by a great touch from Favio Alvarez, that sealed the deal.

Ibrahimovic didn’t just score a hat trick; he scored a perfect hat trick. He deposited three goals using his left foot, his right foot, and his head. And thereby making him the first MLS player to do so since 2017 when both Patrick Mullens and Josef Martinez accomplished the same feat.

A consolation goal scored by Vela in stoppage time of the game was the only other blemish on the scoreboard from the Galaxy defense. Although replays seem to indicate he was offside.

“You know, seven days ago I came here and say we deserve to lose against San Jose we played so bad. — after five or 10 minutes in the first half,” Galaxy Head Coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto told reporters after the game. But today we played 90 minutes brilliant.”

“I think the team played very well,” Schelotto continued with admiration in his voice. “We fight. Even, we can play better. But we keep fighting, and if we can keep playing like today, we’ll be a very dangerous team, for sure.”

The Galaxy, forced to play without four critical pieces to the team (Romain Alessandrini, Perry Kitchen, Chris Pontius, and Sebastian Lletget) managed to keep the pressure on the visitors for the entire night.

And it was a team effort that saw them hand LAFC only their third loss of the season and their first by allowing more than a single goal.

“I feel like yesterday, we are going to play a different game. We are going to play a really good team, really good players, really good coach” Schelotto said about the match. “But you know, we prepared during the week to win. I think the players today had been really good, really good. I feel happy for them.”

The win improves the Galaxy’s record to 12-8-1 and gives the Galaxy the second-most wins in the league this year (behind LAFC’s 14 wins).

And it also shrinks the gap to nine points between the two LA squads.

But for the Galaxy, this game also proved just how good they could be. They made the league’s top team look like they were standing still at times. And for all the talk of LAFC’s dominance, they were anything but on the night.

So the mental block remains, for LAFC. They, once again, are unable to take three points from their cross-town rivals — something that continues to knaw at the brains of their supporters.

And now the LA Galaxy have staked their claim to some of the most expensive real estate in Los Angeles. Somewhere deep within the hearts and minds of their cross-town rival, Ibrahimovic and crew are building a mental mansion after yet another come-from-behind victory against LAFC.