LOS ANGELES — Could the points-leading Los Angeles Football Club maintain its perfect record when scoring first? Or would the Galaxy once again assert head-to-head dominance in the L.A. derby by spoiling another day in the life of its heated rival?
For more than 90 hotly-contested minutes that answer hung in the balance as the third edition of Major League Soccer’s best rivalry unfolded at Banc of California Stadium on Friday night.
When referee Armando Villarreal blew the final whistle sealing LAFC’s 3-2 victory, it marked the first time in three “El Trafico” matches this year that LAFC could hold its head high thanks to a pair of goals by Jose Cifuentes and the game-winner by Cristian Arango.
LAFC improved its record atop the Major League Soccer standings to 12-4-3 (39 points) as it waits for the imminent debuts of its two superstar European signings – Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini and Welsh forward Gareth Bale.
LAFC stepped onto its home field with a dominant 8-0-0 record whenever it jumped out to a lead.
Seventeen minutes into the match, the hosts did just that via Kellyn Acosta’s second assist with LAFC. The American midfielder struck a high curving corner kick to the back post that found the unmarked Cifuentes, who headed the ball down to beat Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Bond for his fourth goal of the season.
Coming into the match, the Galaxy (8-7-3, 27 points) had a 1-5-1 record when its opponents scored first. Until LAFC’s last match in Vancouver, when it conceded late and lost 1-0, the second half of matches had been a strength for the Black & Gold, which scored a league-best 24 goals while conceding four.
The Galaxy did not care about any of that, and 10 minutes into the second half the visitors leveled the score when Samuel Grandsir struck a low shot through the crowded box that snuck underneath LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau for his first goal of the season.
The pace of play turned frenetic and sloppy over the next 15 minutes. Giveaways by both teams, often off poor passes that missed their targets by wide margins, made the action look like a pickup game on a rec field.
Then LAFC went into overdrive, reasserting its second-half dominance with a pair of goals in the span of two minutes.
Cifuentes helped LAFC regain the lead in the 70th minute when he darted into the path of a cross from Vela that curled toward the Galaxy goal and converted a header for his second goal.
The redirected header was followed up less than two minutes later. Vela’s team-best eighth assist set up Arango’s game-winner – his fifth goal in the club’s last six matches – and gave the Colombian space to move one-on-one against a Galaxy defender before cutting a low shot that steered clear of Bond’s reach.
Insurance was needed because, again, the Galaxy refused to go away.
The Galaxy did whatever it could to find an equalizer and avoid losing for the first time since 2020 as LAFC pushed counter-attacks that teased the sold-out crowd of 22,231.
Clawing back into the match in the 81st minute, Victor Vazquez’s head-height cross found fellow midfielder Rayan Raveloson, who headed in his third goal of year.
The 37-year-old Chiellini was in uniform, but he did not make his MLS debut. He left the touch line along with his fellow reserves to mob Arango in celebration of his goal.
Chiellini signed last month after 17 seasons at Juventus, and LAFC clearly could use his steady presence in the back end after this back-and-forth derby.
Bale only arrived in Los Angeles earlier Friday, but the longtime Real Madrid star got a long, loud pregame ovation while standing on the field and waving to the sold-out stadium.
Bale celebrated each of his new team’s goals from a luxury box, and he went back to the field afterward and grabbed a megaphone to lead a postgame chant with their fans while his new teammates doused him with water.
More to come on this story.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.