In just three short years, the Battle For Los Angeles between LAFC and the Galaxy has become must-see TV, with each installment featuring high intensity and drama. Thousands of miles from the City of Angels and without the raucous singing of the 3252, the rivalry match-up still did not disappoint viewers on July 18 in LAFC’s second game in the MLS Is Back Tournament.
After a difficult first half, LAFC exploded in the final 45 minutes, breaking open a 2-2 game to run away from the Galaxy behind a historic four-goal night from Diego Rossi.
“It still felt like a derby,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “Obviously, it is better when there are fans, that brings the games to life. But the two teams know what’s at stake. They know that all the fans at home are watching, so everybody still felt that.”
ANOTHER RECORD FOR ROSSI
Diego Rossi has enjoyed a lot of amazing moments in his short time with LAFC. The second Designated Player ever signed by the Club, Rossi scored the first goal in LAFC history, and rocketed the Black & Gold into the next round of the Concacaf Champions League with the game-winner against Club Leon. In between, he has now scored 34 regular season goals in 70 matches.
And on July 18 vs. the Galaxy, Rossi made history yet again.
“Diego is in great form,” Bradley said. “This is fun to watch.”
Rossi became the first LAFC player to ever net four goals in a game when he slotted home a cross by Pancho Ginella in the 92nd minute.
“He is a special kind of player,” LAFC goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega said. “He’s stepping up right now. Obviously it was a great, great night for him.”
Rossi became just the 13th player in MLS history to score four or more goals in a game, becoming the first to do so since May 18, 2019 when Chris Wondolowski did it. Rossi also is now just the eighth player in MLS history to be involved in five goals (he assisted on Bradley Wright-Phillips goal), and the only player to ever do it two times. Rossi also was involved in five goals on March 10, 2018 when he scored twice and registered three assists vs. Real Salt Lake.
“I feel really good,” Rossi said. “Obviously I’m happy with my goals, but I am more happy about the result and the attitude of the team.”
FIGHTING THROUGH THE FIRST HALF
For the second straight game at the MLS Is Back Tournament, LAFC had to fight back from a first half deficit. A physical and difficult first half ended in a 2-2 tie, as the Galaxy spent much of the first 45 minutes focused on clogging the middle of the field. LAFC struggled with the Galaxy’s tight, one-on-one midfield marking and were not able to find the space for Eduard Atuesta and Mark Anthony Kaye to operate.
“The first half was very hard,” Bradley said. “The Galaxy were very intense, and we did a poor job of finding pace. We were too slow with the ball and our passing wasn’t sharp. The Galaxy had a strong game plan. It took us a long time to find our ways and to find a way to control the game.”
In the second half, LAFC settled down and was able to move the ball quickly, especially through the midfield. Passes began connecting, and the pace of the Black & Gold began to force the Galaxy into difficult situations.
“The Galaxy know that we want to play through the midfield,” Bradley said. “They were going to do everything possible to clog it up and be physical and intense.”
PABLO WITH THE START
Goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega made his first start of 2020 in a pressure packed situation, replacing veteran Kenneth Vermeer, who had started the previous three regular season matches and two Concacaf Champions League games.
“I found out yesterday I was going to start,” Sisniega said. “I just tried to get ready and do it like I do everything, to the best of my abilities.”
It was the first appearance for Sisniega since Sept. 29, 2019 when he played 90 minutes in a 1-1 tie in Minnesota.
Sisniega was tested in the first half several times, and looked to come up big in the 31st minute, saving Cristian Pavon’s penalty kick. However, it was ruled that Sisniega moved off the line too early, and Pavon slotted home his re-kick to give the Galaxy a temporary 2-1 lead.
IMPACT OFF THE BENCH
Bob Bradley used all five of his substitutions vs. the Galaxy, and every single one of them had a positive impact on the match.
“This was the second game in a row that the guys who came on as reserves did an excellent job,” Bradley said.
In the 57th minute, Pancho Ginella replaced center back Dejan Jaković, moving into the midfield and bringing Latif Blessing to right back, causing Tristan Blackmon to pair in central defense with Eddie Segura.
“When Latif is at right back, it gives us a different dimension, especially against a team that is organized and fighting hard,” Bradley said. “Tristan adjusted well in the center and Pancho has come on in two games and found good plays and good spots on the field to help us connect passes.”
In the 71st minute, Jose Cifuentes and Mohamed El-Munir entered, and almost immediately made their presence felt. Cifuentes was dangerous in the center of the field and slotted a beautiful long pass up the right side to Brian Rodríguez to lead to LAFC’s fourth goal in the 75th minute. And then El-Munir crushed a wonder goal past the Galaxy goalkeeper in the 80th minute.
“I was happy to see Mo get a goal and to see Cifuentes contribute like that.”
Bryce Duke and Jordan Harvey came on in the 88th minute.
NO CARLOS, NO PROBLEM SCORING
Carlos Vela was the 2019 MLS MVP and shattered the league scoring record with 34 goals. And while LAFC misses his playmaking ability, the Black & Gold have still been able to find the back of the net without their MVP. LAFC has now scored nine goals in two games at the MLS Is Back Tournament, the highest-scoring team in the league.
BWP CLIMBING THE LADDER
Bradley Wright-Phillips made his second consecutive start for the Black & Gold on July 18 vs. the Galaxy, and it was his second game scoring a goal. One of the top goalscorers in league history with the Red Bulls, Wright-Phillips is healthy after a frustrating injury-plagued 2019 and scoring goals again.
He netted the game winner vs. the Galaxy on a well-placed shot and continues his assault on the league record books, netting his 110th career MLS goal. The English forward sits in 7th place on the all-time MLS goalscoring list now, just four goals behind current LAFC assistant coach Ante Razov in sixth place.
“I still have a lot to learn with this team,” Wright-Phillips said. “The more I get fit it will come even easier.”
If that is true, Razov and the rest of the league need to be on notice.