Photo by Steve Carrillo

‘Seismic’ Victory for the Galaxy over LAFC in El Trafico

CARSON, Calif. — It’s not often an LA Galaxy game registers on the Richter scale. But that’s what happened during the Galaxy’s 2-1 victory over cross-town rivals LAFC on Saturday evening in front of 7,193 socially distanced fans at Dignity Health Sports Park.

The earthquake, not felt by most in the stadium or on the field, measured in at a 3.7 and was located down the road in Hermosa Beach. And while it shook the press box, it didn’t have nearly the impact of Jonathan dos Santos’ 79th-minute game-winning goal.

It wasn’t all roses for the Galaxy, however. They struggled mightily in most of the first half to hold onto the ball and saw LAFC capture more than 60% of the ball and take 17 shots during the entirety of the game.

Greg Vanney started a lineup that saw Adam Saldaña and Ethan Zubak’s return and saw Derrick Williams get a full 90 minutes in just his second game with the Galaxy.

Victor Vazquez missed out on the festivities as he recovered from a groin injury. Kevin Cabral, the Galaxy’s Young Designated Player, was in the stadium and was likely available for selection but was kept out of the game-day roster as he adjusts to life in LA.

The Galaxy scored first in the 11th-minute. That’s when a recycled set-piece saw LAFC attempt to break out from the back. But Williams made a perfectly timed crunching tackle on LAFC midfielder Jose Cifuentes that sent the ball right to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez on the left-hand side of the box. There was a hint that Herandez was offside, but VAR allowed the play to stand and his right-footed shot nestled into the far right corner.

From that moment forward, LAFC would begin their pressing, with Vanney seen on the sidelines upset and frustrated by the Galaxy’s inability to hold the ball in any way, shape, or form and the slow ways they rotated to the weak side of the pressure.

That kept the defense under constant pressure and kept Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Bond on his toes through most of the night. Bond would make four saves on the night and cut out numerous chances for LAFC, but he never put a step wrong. He made a double save in the 32nd minute that denied both Diego Rossi and Latif Blessing chances on goal and wouldn’t pick the ball out of the back of the net until the second half.

Rossi scored in the 62nd minute — a goal that had been coming for quite some time as the Galaxy couldn’t break LAFC’s pressure. It was a great combination play between Rossie and Corey Baird inside the box that saw Rossi slip in behind Julian Araujo for the visitor’s only goal.

Araujo, outside of that slip of tight coverage, was outstanding on the afternoon. He had 80 touches of the ball during the game, completed a team-high 38 passes, and made six tackles.

Vanney brought in Carlos Harvey, Sacha Kljestan, Cameron Dunbar, and Efrain Alvarez in the second half, and each of them put a stamp on the game.

The Galaxy reacted to Rossi’s goal by really starting to string together some dangerous passes. And once Lletget came off for Alvarez, things began to click.

Dunbar got a ball on the left side of the field and ran into triple coverage toward the corner flag. He was eventually stripped of the ball but didn’t stop pursuing it.

“He is quick. He is shifty. He doesn’t stop. He just keeps coming and doesn’t stop,” Vanney said of Dunbar. “So later in the game, when guys are a little tired, the last thing you want to deal with is a guy that keeps coming at you and who has speed and quickness and is always in your business when you’re trying to do things. It just creates so many problems.”

Photo by Steve Carrillo

Just yards from the touch-line, Dunbar won the ball back and fired a pass into Chicharito, who was running toward him outside the near post. Hernandez turned toward the endline and dipped a pass between the legs of an outstretched Tristan Blackmon. The ball patiently crawled across the penalty spot where a late run from dos Santos called off Alvarez. Dos Santos passed it behind LAFC Goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega, who never stood a chance of stopping the perfectly placed ball.

It was Dos Santos’ first goal since scoring in the playoffs for the Galaxy in 2019 and was the one act of heroism Dos Santos needed after struggling in the first half. And for a guy who has been battling cramping issues, it was a goal that couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It was a goal that I personally needed,” dos Santos told reporters in Spanish. “I know that this year is a very important year for me. I’m still getting back into game fitness, and every day, I feel like I am getting better. But the most important thing is that the team won today against a very difficult rival.”

Chicharito had something to say about dos Santos’ goal as well — apparently, predicting that he’d be assisting on a goal and telling dos Santos about it before the game.

“I told him that probably I was going to assist him,” he said, laughing. “I don’t know what he said in the interview. And I don’t want to sound like a very Nostradamus thing, but I’ve been telling this a lot to Jonathan [dos Santos], and I want to make this public because Jona is one of the best players in MLS.

“That’s why LA Galaxy bet on him when they signed him,” he continued. “He is a star of the Mexican National Team. He’sworld-class player. He’s been very unlucky with injuries, but right now, we are seeing what Jona is capable of. Apart from scoring goals, you can see his performance today, and he’s our captain. He’s our leader.”

With the win, the Galaxy now have nine points through four games, with only the 1996 and 2010 seasons having more points (both had 12 points through four games).

And with three games still to be played on Sunday across the league, the Galaxy currently occupy the second spot in the Western Conference behind the San Jose Earthquakes.

What is clear from this win, just like the other before it, is that the Galaxy are buying into Vanney’s style, and their work rate is making him look good. It’s not perfect, but it’s something they can continue to build on.

“I’m so happy for the guys,” Vanney said after the game. “They laid it out all there today. Every single guy that went out there gave it everything they had to the victory today, so I am happy for them. They earned it with their work rate, their commitment, sticking to it. They got a lead, they gave up the lead, they got it back, and so I am proud of them.

“It is a group of guys, who if they continue — which I believe they will — will gain the character that they have to compete in these games. We will continue to get better as a team. If we can carry this along with us, we will have a very good group that will be hard to beat.”