Sports

MLS Had Its First Postseason El Tráfico, And It Exceeded All The Hype

Major League Soccer struck lightning in a bottle with its crosstown rivalry between one of the league’s stalwart clubs, Los Angeles Galaxy, and one of its newest squads, Los Angeles City Football Club. The two sides have played five times in the matchup that has become known as El Tráfico, and to one extent or another, each match has been a delight. Star power is mixed with two attractive styles of football, along with a heightened intensity that can only occur when two clubs and fanbases do not like one another.

Thursday night gave us something slightly different, as it was the first time the L.A. sides met up in a playoff game. That wasn’t the only thing that was unique about this one, because with their 5-3 victory, LAFC beat the Galaxy for the first time in series history.

It took a mere 16 minutes for LAFC to find itself ahead. Carlos Vela was set up in the box by Diego Rossi. After a cheeky touch to evade a defender, the league’s MVP used his weaker right foot to slide the ball past Galaxy keeper David Bingham.

Twenty-four minutes later, Vela struck again. Brian Rodriguez and Latif Blessing combined for a lovely 1-2, which put Bingham in the unenviable position of daring Rodriguez to score or trying to force him to make a mistake. He chose the latter, which left Vela so wide open in front of goal that he could have read War and Peace. It was a controversial goal — Rodriguez was offside when he receiver the ball from Blessing, but the official opted not to look and let things stand at 2-0.

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One thing this rivalry has become revered for is the Galaxy’s ability to respond whenever they face some adversity. This was why it wasn’t a surprise that Christian Pavón offered up this response a minute later to slice their deficit in half before the break on the heels of some outstanding hold-up play by Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Speaking of Zlatan, this rivalry has been defined by his ability to serve as a boogeyman for LAFC. When the Galaxy need a moment of magic, he is able to provide one, because he is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and he just does that sort of thing, and he will continue to do that sort of thing until he dies, and then, in the afterlife, he will do silly stuff for Purgatory FC. Anyway, LAFC made a mistake while Zlatan was in the general vicinity, and a heartbeat later, the match was tied.

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A recurring theme in this series has been Zlatan’s magic absorbing all the air from the sails of LAFC, which has led to one of two things happening: a draw, or the Galaxy winning. But things were different on Thursday night. That goal did not end LAFC, which fought and kept things level right up until a moment popped up that let Vela rise to the occasion.

The moment came in the 66th minute. Vela battled to maintain possession of the ball from just outside the box, and when he got his wits about him, he saw Rossi unmarked to his left. In addition to his prowess as a goalscorer, Vela is a wonderful passer, so he played in his teammate and let him do the rest. Rossi took a touch and slid the ball right past Bingham, putting LAFC ahead for good.

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The Vela-Rossi combination played a major role in setting up LAFC’s fourth goal, too. Vela picked a pass down the wing to Rossi, who turned on the jets and left Giancarlo González in the dust. Instead of finishing, though, Rossi played a cross to Adama Diomandé, who did the rest.

LAFC kept the Galaxy at arm’s length for nine minutes, but Los Angeles defender Rolf Feltscher got one back on a free kick following an absolute peach of a ball from Romain Alessandrini.

Sitting at 4-3 with 13 minutes left in regular time, the Galaxy were right where they needed to be. All they needed was one moment of magic from Zlatan and the raucous opposing crowd would have been silenced. However, Diomandé would not let them get any closer. The forward received a pass in the midfield, went right around his defender, and took off towards the goal. He got into the box, and despite being closed down on either side by defenders, beat Bingham and sealed the win.

The match had all the ups and downs you expect out of a contest of this magnitude, and even though there’s a chance we never see Zlatan take an MLS pitch again, it doesn’t take away from both the quality of the game and the fact that this evening should be about LAFC’s triumph. With the win, LAFC will host Seattle, the 2-seed in the Western Conference, on Oct. 29. With all due respect to the Sounders, a very good team and one that could take down Los Angeles, it’s going to take one hell of an effort to one-up the game we saw on Thursday evening.

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