We've been here before, unfortunately.
A tall Swede with a god complex is, once again, a harbinger of our collective misery. The one whose glaring flaw in many people's eyes is actually his biggest strength. A player that is rejuvenated by the biggest moments even at 37. And specifically, almost without fail, always against LAFC.
We've been here before, but not in this fashion.
Because Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have had his moment, just as he did the first time we traveled to Carson, but it was the rest of his team that followed his lead for once. For once in this derby, LAFC wasn't just unlucky. They simply weren't the better team on the night.
And yet still... still, LAFC is undoubtedly the best team in MLS. Maybe the best ever according to the points, goals, goal differential, and goals against coming into Friday night and where those stats projected to finish. But it just doesn't feel that way in this very moment.
Simply put: Derby losses are the worst.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's 3-2 loss to the Galaxy in Carson:
The Derby Atmosphere
MLS should be paying residuals to everyone involved in these matches. Those in the stands included. Because this derby consistently puts MLS on the world's stage.
Seeing the amount of Black & Gold in the away stands and hearing large swaths of active LAFC support throughout the match, it brought to mind the San Siro divided by red and blue for Derby della Madonnina between Inter and Milan - Zlatan should know a thing or two about that, he played for both sides.
Catch Your Breath
Skip the pleasantries and get right to it. LAFC and the Galaxy came out flying.
Things were happening so fast, between writing in my notebook, updating Twitter, and you know... like... breathing, the first 10 minutes on Friday were breakneck.
I kept telling myself, this match has to settle. It never really did. This was football at 100mph. Which explains why it wasn't always the cleanest football. But what it lacked in aesthetics, it made up for it with a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride.
Hate To Say I Told You So
I wrote this in my Keys to the Match the day before:
Ibrahimovic has the strength to hold off defenders and the control to bring those balls down. But its the aftermath LAFC needs to be attentive to even when the Galaxy forward doesn't get clean control because runners like Ema Boateng and Uriel Antuna will be keying off the target striker. If the Galaxy can gain a foothold in LAFC's defensive third by winning the second ball from direct play, they'll have windows to play through the LAFC backline.
I didn't get all the particulars right - Uriel Antuna wasn't much of a factor and Ema Boateng didn't come on until late - but the main point stands. LAFC needed to win as many second balls as they could. Especially, those played into Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
They didn't. All three Galaxy goals came from those situations in one fashion or another. After the match, Bob Bradley said his team didn't match the Galaxy's intensity. The inability to be first to second balls, to step forward even after Zlatan touches the ball, and to just out muscle a Galaxy player in pivotal duels that tipped the scales in the Galaxy's favor most of the night.
Zlatan Being Zlatan
You almost have to just shrug your shoulders.
Find me another player that finishes two out of three of those goals against LAFC. For what it's worth, the Galaxy had a better match as a team but they also had a player capable of finishing chances almost no one in the world can.
I don't have the raw numbers in front of me but I'm almost certain Zlatan's first and third goals probably had a combined xG of 0.10 - basically, around one in 10 times historically those shots, combined, find the back of the net (which I know that isn't necessarily exactly how probability works, but you get the gist of what I'm saying... those simply don't go in most other nights with most other players).
That's no consolation. But then again, LAFC isn't going to face a highly-motivated rival week in and week out that has absurd finishing ability. So at the end of the day, despite how behind the pace LAFC seemed in this match, it still was a victim of circumstance. Which, when coupled with everything we've seen leading up to Friday's match, is reason alone to not panic.
Where From Here?
In the short term, Bob Bradley knows his team still has a ways to go. A bit ironic when you look at the standings.
LAFC is still ahead of the NY Red Bulls historic 71-point pace. Carlos Vela has 21 goals in 20 matches this season. LAFC is still nine points clear of all challengers.
"In the way the game went their intensity and the physical part of the play, which we expected that because that's what you get from derbies, that's where we got to still grow and get better," Bob Bradley said after the match.
That quote from Bradley really was the overarching takeaway from Friday's defeat. Because for all the records, goals, flowing play, and beautiful moments on display from LAFC this season, there are still things that can be better.
LAFC has rarely missed a step in 2019. They look on the verge of something great, maybe even historic. And while the wall they climbed from the inaugural season to now seems taller - LAFC could best last season's points total by more than 20, considering the starting point that's almost unheard of in MLS - sometimes it's that hurdle just on the other side of the biggest challenge that's insurmountable.
LAFC has what it takes. This Club has the players, the coaches, the staff, and the style of play necessary to finish top in MLS and take home silverware. We've seen it through 20 matches. One match doesn't change that even if it is a derby.
But even then, LAFC still isn't a finished product.
Which could be very scary. To whom, I'll let you decide.