For the first time in its history, the Black & Gold take all three points in Carson. Get Takeaways sent directly to your inbox FREE after every LAFC match. SUBSCRIBE _HERE._
In a lot of ways, it was just like any other derby between LAFC and the Galaxy.
It was a gorgeous day. Maybe we’re all just lucky with where we live. But when you see rain in Manchester or snow in Milan, you don’t take the sunshine in Southern California for granted.
One team arrived at the match looking down at the table. The other still struggling to find their way.
The 3252 set the tone for the day. A symphony of chants bellowed throughout the stadium from before kickoff to well after the final whistle.
Carlos Vela scored - in case you were wondering, it was a curler. That’s 12 goals in 12 appearances against the Galaxy for the LAFC captain. Once again, he gave LAFC a tentative edge over its opponent.
But, unlike the derbies of past years, specifically those in Carson, this derby was unique.
Like the chants from the 3252, that advantage didn’t wane. For the first time in LAFC history, “Sha La La” rang from the rafters and the pitch of Dignity Health Sports Park. LAFC players lingered in the northeast end of the stadium, celebrating the first road derby win in team history with over a thousand Black & Gold supporters.
Here are the Takeaways from LAFC’s 3-2 win over the Galaxy:
Tactics? We’re Talking About Tactics?!
It’s impossible to explain this match to casuals.
One team is usually playing its best football. The other limps to the starting line. And then chaos ensues.
I hate predicting the scoreline when people ask for my thoughts on this match. I can’t imagine what it’s like to actually try to formulate a game plan.
But after the match, LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo pointed out this was his team’s fifth match in about two weeks’ time. I think that played into his tactics on the day.
The default setting of this team is pressing, getting numbers forward, and overwhelming opponents. And a good indicator of those things is LAFC’s fullbacks. When things are going to plan, we see them high up the pitch.
Against the Galaxy, Ryan Hollingshead and Chiqui Palacios stayed connected to the backline for most of the match. Whether it was to compensate for the aforementioned tired legs or a tactical plan, it benefited LAFC in two ways.
First and foremost, the Galaxy had precious few moments to attack LAFC’s goal with an advantage in numbers. Outside of an attack off a corner kick, LAFC’s defenders were disciplined and resolute in being sure the Galaxy didn’t overload their backline.
Secondarily, Cherundolo kept his fullbacks deep in the buildup to attract Galaxy pressure. LAFC's confidence with the ball at their feet forced the Galaxy to break shape on multiple occasions. As a Galaxy midfielder pressed the almost flat back four of LAFC, a combination of LAFC’s front three and Jose Cifuentes - playing more as a true #10 on the day - checked to the ball to provide an outlet between the Galaxy midfield and backline.
Until Greg Vanney adjusted his team in the second half, the tactic kept LAFC with a numerical advantage at the back while also giving it pathways to bypass the Galaxy’s strength in midfield. LAFC wasn’t sharp once they ran at the Galaxy backline but with the team running a bit leggy, it was a good solution for the opponent and congested schedule in one fell swoop.
Johnny Be Good
No offense to the goalkeeping department in years past at LAFC but this crop is clearly the best.
Maxime Crépeau put his health on the line at the 2022 MLS Cup. John McCarthy stole the show in the subsequent penalty shootout. But what that group is doing in 2023 is arguably more impressive.
The team has registered seven shutouts across 11 matches in all competitions. And despite conceding twice against the Galaxy, McCarthy deserves a lot of credit for the win.
With the scoreline at 3-1, McCarthy held his nerve against Chicharito in a 1v1 moment in the 82nd minute. Then with his team clinging to a one-goal lead in stoppage time, McCarthy made a fingertip save from a shot that sizzled across his goal mouth.
As Crépeau continues his rehab, McCarthy - along with Eldin Jakupović - has kept LAFC in good hands.
End To End
What a finish! We can say that now. Now that it ended in LAFC’s favor, right?!
For a second there, it felt like the same old story for LAFC in Carson. But as this team has proved with its MLS Cup victory in 2022, it’s just different.
In years past, we’ve been told an MLS team can’t compete on two fronts. Yet, here we are with LAFC as the only undefeated side remaining in the league and in the Concacaf Champions League semifinals.
Say what you will about a 3-1 lead that nearly evaporated - judging by Steve Cherundolo’s demeanor after the match, he’ll have a lot to say to his team next week - but they found a way to win.
Birthday boy Ryan Hollingshead, who celebrated in the best way with the game-winner, probably said it best:
“For us, it’s a good progression in our DNA and who we are as a team to come out and win a scrappy game like this. This is probably the worst football we’ve played all season. We did not play our game. We weren’t connecting passes. We were very direct. Legs were very heavy. Guys were kind of all over the place. Tactically we weren’t our best.
“With all of that being what was true, and still being able to get three points, I think shows the progression of our game. We can win playing beautiful football. And we can win when it’s scrappy and we just need to grind out three points.”
LAFC’s ability to see out matches in high-leverage situations is the hallmark of a championship team. Getting over the hump at the Galaxy was yet another in a long line of milestones for Cherundolo’s team.
As they continue to get results early in the season even when on short rest and not at their best, it makes you wonder what LAFC’s ceiling is with five trophies on the line in 2023.