Galaxy fans may have been prescient, nervously so, before their team’s latest match with LAFC Saturday night.
An hour before kickoff in Orlando, Fla., this was posted on the “LA Galaxy Rumors” twitter feed:
“Hey @ibra_official, can you get to Orlando in an hour? We need you. #LAGalaxy.”
— LA Galaxy Rumors (@LAG_Rumors) July 19, 2020
Well, Zlatan Ibrahimović apparently is going to be available again, his departure from AC Milan said to be imminent. But I’m not sure that’s even going to help the Galaxy, considering the turn that El Tráfico has taken.
The commentators on ESPN’s coverage of Saturday night’s resumption of L.A.’s MLS rivalry nailed it at the beginning of the evening. LAFC has an identity that is fairly evident. The Galaxy still seems to be searching for one.
And so it was that Diego Rossi filled the superstar void more than adequately on another steamy night in Florida. Rossi’s four goals – a penalty, a rebound of a Bradley Wright-Phillips shot, a finish of a Mark-Anthony Kaye pass off a 2-on-1 and a tap-in of Francisco Ginella’s shot in second-half stoppage time – accentuated a 6-2 LAFC victory that pretty well assured it a spot in the knockout round of the MLS Is Back tournament.
Scoring-wise, it was even more dominant than it looked. It was tied 2-2 at halftime, mainly because the Galaxy had bottled up LAFC’s midfield progress, but the two Galaxy goals were an own-goal (Latif Blessing deflected Cristian Pavón’s shot past goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega) and a penalty (Pavón beating Sisniega on a second try after Sisniega came off the line on the first save).
In the second half, the guys from downtown just wore down the guys from Carson. That could have been a consequence of the heat (81 degrees at the 10:30 local time kickoff) and humidity, or it could be a pattern.
The comeback from a two-goal deficit in the late stages Monday night against Houston would suggest the latter, but coach Bob Bradley noted these were two different types of games.
“Against Houston we pushed forward and created chances,” Bradley said on the Zoom conference following Saturday’s game. “Tonight in terms of fluidity and finding ways to connect passes in the first half, as I said, (it) was poor. So, a different kind of game. It’s expected in a derby and (Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s) experience in derbies and his way of getting his team prepared, we know. So we had to fight through, honestly, a poor half. We were very pleased to get the equalizer before halftime. And then I think at halftime we were able to iron out a few things, and then, of course, it’s hard for them to keep that up.”
It was a weird rivalry game in some ways, given not only the conditions (no fans and that Florida weather) but the circumstances. Not only was there no Carlos Vela, but there was no Chicharito; Javier Hernández was ruled out by the Galaxy shortly before the game because of a calf injury suffered in training Thursday. And LAFC changed goalkeepers, maybe because of those three first-half goals Monday night by Houston; Sisniega made his seventh MLS start and Kenneth Vermeer went to the bench.
But others stepped up. Pavón assumed the striker’s role with Chicharito on the bench, and he had a part in both Galaxy goals, had yet another waved off in the second half on an offside call and created several other opportunities.
So did Rossi.
“I think he’s in excellent form,” Bradley said. “We saw it early in the season, and he worked very hard during the period when we couldn’t train, and you could see as we got back into team training how sharp he was.
“He continues to grow as a player – his maturity, obviously his speed, but also his movement, his way of coming away from defenders, his threat to go deep, those are all things you can see. And his finishing just gets better and better.”
As befits a Los Angeles rivalry, then, there is no shortage of stars, or potential stars, or at least players capable of taking a star turn.
And while the setting and atmosphere were far different than the previous iterations of this matchup, it was truly a derby in one sense: Seven yellow cards, and a lot of players hitting the turf. I think it’s safe to say that with fans or without, LAFC and the Galaxy bring out the best, and the worst, in each other. Isn’t that what a rivalry is all about?
“This is different to play any game without fans,” Rossi said. “When we play in our stadium every game is full, every game the fans are with us, and that is something that’s really important for us because they push us in a good way. So obviously this is different.
“But you have to be smart. The group has to be really focused on what is going on. Yeah, it is different, but it is the new life that we have, and we have to be ready for this.”
LAFC at least has adapted well, after starting out 0-2-3 in this rivalry but ending the jinx with a victory in the Western Conference semifinal last October. Just off of the small sample size this season, two MLS games pre-pandemic and this tournament, LAFC is in a much better place than the Galaxy, with stars or without.
That was underlined Saturday night. And no, Galaxy fans, Zlatan is not walking through that door.
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter