Photo Courtesy of LA Galaxy

Pavon and Lletget lead Galaxy to another scorching El Trafico win

The LA Galaxy won their fourth game in a row by dispatching LAFC on Sunday night. But for a while, it didn’t look like it was going to turn out that way.

CARSON, Calif. — There were little signs of life from the LA Galaxy on a hot night at Dignity Health Sports Park. In the sky, overhead, a thin layer of smoke from wildfires raging throughout California could be seen, and the wind, which usually lashes at the stadium, was calm.

On the field, LAFC was dominating possession and had just outshot the home side by a 14 to one margin, missing several surefire chances to go ahead. The halftime whistle sounded more like a sigh of relief for a Galaxy side that couldn’t control the middle and saw no offensive ways forward.

In the first half, the Galaxy’s (4-3-2) only chance saw striker Ethan Zubak sky a volley from inside the Penalty box without an opponent within five yards. LAFC didn’t even blink.

But knotted at zero’s coming out of the half, something changed for the Galaxy. And that’s when Cristian Pavon and Sebastian Lletget would get to work on another Galaxy masterclass in the eventual 3-0 win over LAFC (3-3-3).

“I said we need to correct something in the pressure. We talked about the goal we scored against Portland, where we made 16 touches,” Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto told reporters after the game. “So, we talked about the pressure, that we need to manage the ball and when we get the ball we need to touch – short passes and then maybe someone had to do a long pass, but we needed to get the ball because the option will appear if we get the ball and make movements.”

The Galaxy would listen.

Pavon would score in the 51st minute off a superb ball from defender Emiliano Insua. Insua, who had a breakout game for the Galaxy — along with playing partner Nick DePuy — scooped a ball over the top that Pavon ran onto and then chipped over LAFC goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega from about 18 yards out.

It was Pavon’s sixth goal of the season and, with 20 MLS games under his belt, he now has 12 goals and nine assists.

“Regarding my goal,” Pavon told reporters in Spanish, “I think that the only option I had was to chip him. And thankfully, the keeper came off his line. Because if he hadn’t come off his line, I wouldn’t have had an angle. I didn’t have any other option than to chip it.”

But Pavon’s goal was only the beginning for the home side. Just two minutes after the goal, LAFC’s Mark Anthony Kaye would lunge forward with his left foot and stomp on the ankle of Galaxy defender Julian Araujo. Referee Alan Chapman, who hesitated throughout the night to punish the physical play in front of him, went straight to his back pocket for the red card. The Galaxy would play the remaining 36 minutes of the match up a man.

And they would make the most of that advantage.

Lletget would get his first goal of the night on a play straight from the training ground. With Insua and Pavon standing over a free-kick from the penalty box’s right side, a glut of Galaxy attackers broke towards the goal. With space open behind them, Pavon slotted a hard pass to Lletget, who had run across the field horizontally with defender Dan Steres providing the pick to his mark. His shot nestled inside the right post for the 2-0 lead in the 73rd minute.

But Lletget wouldn’t be done providing dramatic endings for the match. With the game well in hand, and with the Galaxy pressing for a third goal, Galaxy defender Rolf Feltscher would push up the right-hand side in the space that LAFC was allowing. His combination play with substitute Efrain Alvarez stalled the game momentarily until Alvarez broke Feltscher into the box with a pass. Feltscher took a touch and went to the end line, where he waited as Lletget first pressed toward the near post but then ghosted in the opposite direction. The result was some three to four yards of space and a delicately floated cross from Feltscher that allowed Lletget to wind up, leap in the air, and hit a full-volley scissor-kick inside the right post in the 83rd minute.

It was Lletget’s second goal of the night and his fourth goal in as many games. And that now puts him more than halfway to his season-best of seven goals (2015).

The Galaxy would finish the night by being outshot 17 to eight and would be out possessed 58 to 42 percent. In fact, only duels and tackles would fall the Galaxy’s way in terms of statistics – outside of the score.

But Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham, who had come under fire in recent games for making too many preventable mistakes, made seven saves on the night, a season-high, while also holding LAFC scoreless.

“He answered really well in the first half when he had to act,” Schelotto praised Bingham.” He was very focused and had been on the team working.

“When you are watching Galaxy, maybe you are waiting for something from [Cristian] Pavon, from Jonathan [Dos Santos] or Sebastian [Lletget]. But today he [Bingham] was in the correct moment in the first half and he gave a lot of security to keep playing and he was there.

“I am happy for him.”

Perry Kitchen had an excellent second half in midfield alongside Joe Corona, and Araujo — who has been the second-best player on the team after Pavon in 2020 — impressed all night with his quickness, his willingness to defend, and his physicality against a team that was hellbent on breaking him.

As much as Pavon often seems too good for Major League Soccer, Araujo may be good enough to play in Europe — sooner rather than later.

And with another El Trafico win, another El Trafico shutout, and a win over San Jose earlier in the week, the Galaxy lay claim to the Kings of California title. The success also bolts them into a tie for third place in the Western Conference, and they sit just three points from the top spot held by Sporting KC, who have played one more game than them.

That California crown will be placed on the line next Sunday when they face the Earthquakes on the road in Avaya Stadium (8 PM; Unimas)

But for now, the Galaxy will enjoy another El Trafico victory that was both too hot to handle and dominant the only place it mattered — on the scoreboard.