In front of a raucous sold out crowd at Dignity Health Sports Park, LA Galaxy took down city rivals LAFC 3-2 on Friday night. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Carlos Vela lived up and surpassed expectations as Vela netted two goals only to be usurped by Ibrahimovic’s three goals and perfect hat trick.
The Galaxy have never lost to their city rivals. Granted it’s only been a total of four meetings, but the opportunities have been there for LAFC to snatch a victory. LAFC were up by three goals in the first meeting only to see Galaxy storm back including two goals from Ibrahimovic and the game winner, with LAFC ultimately falling 4-3. In the next meeting LAFC were again up, this time by two goals at home, but once again squandered the lead as the match up ended 2-2. Friday night, LAFC were up 1-0 just minutes into the match only to see the 6-foot-5 Swede put on an absolute show and score a GOLAZO, then a towering header, followed by a left foot laser and ultimately the win 3-2 over LAFC.
However, Ibrahimovic was only part of the story as the entire Galaxy team seemed to find another gear. Is this something that this team can build on or is it simply a flash in the pan?
Sitting down in the press conference with Ibrahimovic, the first thing he said was “It was a little heightened before the game I think, during the week” as he spoke about the match and the stage. That tells me it was on the forefront of his mind. The “hype” of El Trafico is real. These teams and its players know that there is a lot as stake. As the game was in its final minutes Galaxy fans began chanting “You can’t beat us!” As deafening as it was from a pure noise perspective, it must have pierced all the way into LAFC fans souls.
What LAFC would give up for just one victory over the Galaxy. This tells me that the derby itself has penetrated the very fabric of people’s lives. Fans are planning around it, Major League Soccer is promoting the crap out of it, and players are feeling the pressure on the pitch. LAFC manager Bob Bradley said as much as he knew the derby would have an extra bit of intensity as his team failed to cope with it, “Nowhere near good enough, but the intensity changed the game in that regard, and we didn’t deal well with it.”
The problem is that the Galaxy don’t play city rivals every week. So relying on that type of extrinsic motivation is something that needs to be addressed. How can they make sure they are mentally and physically as prepared as they were against LAFC.
Well, well, insert Julian Araujo praise here*. The 17-year-old was solid on Friday night and earned the praise from his manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto, “He plays like a professional. He is a man.”
I tweeted earlier in the night that Ibrahimovic was moving more off the ball and working a bit harder than normal and that could make all the difference. It did. The big man put in a perfect hat trick. But it was the service on the second goal that we are talking about as Diego Polenta played in a perfect cross with the outside of his foot that Ibrahimovic rose to score. Polenta was absolutely great on the night. He frustrated Vela most of the night defensively. I know that people will say “but Vela got two goals”, BUT one was a penalty where replays showed he was offside when he was passed the ball, and the second goal was definitely offside but was inexplicably not overturned. Vela even lashed out with a punch on Joe Corona that lucky for him didn’t land and also lucky for him, not seen by the referee or VAR. Polenta also ventured forward to the tune of 88% pass completion and the assist.
In the middle, pinching in Uriel Antuna and Araujo when on defense allowed Corona and Jonathan dos Santos to focus on cutting off passing lanes without needing to also press the ball. This allowed the team to keep its shape for the most part. It wasn’t dos Santos or Corona’s best game, so the tactics were spot on and just in time after San Jose tore our midfield apart last week.
The problem is Polenta isn’t a left back, Araujo is not going to play every game, and Schelotto may revert back to whatever tactics he was trying before this match.
Depth and Moving Forward
The Galaxy started off this season very thin in the back line, and now boasts incredible depth when everyone is healthy. However, this combination of Rolf Feltscher, Daniel Steres, Giancarlo Gonzalez, and Polenta seem to take the cake as our best back four.
The midfielders on the shelf need to get healthy and soon as I worry about dos Santos and Corona playing so many minutes in this system where they are asked to cover so much ground defensively and be the focal point of the build up offensively.
What are we doing about resting Ibrahimovic? He is 37 years old, still has magic in him, but surely he can’t play every game. Right? Maybe? He seems like a machine and immortal but even God rested on the 7th day, so surely Ibrahimovic needs his rest.
Three games against very good teams: Portland, Atlanta, and DC United await the Galaxy in their next three MLS matches. Squad depth, rotation, and getting the tactics right will see if we have built on this victory over LAFC, or it’s back to square one.
Next game: LA Galaxy vs Tijuana Xolos (Leagues Cup). Tuesday, July 23, 8:00pm, Dignity Health Sports Park.
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