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CARSON, Calif. — If you really want to understand the madness around El Tráfico matchups between the Los Angeles Galaxy and LAFC, look no further than Saturday.
An earthquake hit Southern California during stoppage time of the Galaxy’s 2-1 win, yet coaches and players on the field didn’t even feel it. The intensity on the pitch in the moment outweighed the brief ripples. Then again, Dignity Health Sports Park was already shaking minutes before that when Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez sent a ball dragging through the area which found the feet of Jonathan dos Santos, and ended up in the back of the net for the eventual winner.
The captain dos Santos ripped his shirt off as he sprinted toward the stands to celebrate with a portion of the 7,193 fans in limited capacity attendance. The last time he celebrated a goal with that much emotion was after netting Mexico’s winner in the 2019 Gold Cup final against the United States.
“The atmosphere was incredible,” dos Santos said of the first of three matchups between the rivals this season. “To experience it and then score is priceless. I will remember this game for all my life.”
His goal will be added to the long highlight reel of this rivalry, which has produced 50 goals in just 11 meetings. And while Saturday’s game didn’t include the marquee stars Carlos Vela or former Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose chirping and goal-scoring helped define the fixture in its infancy, it did serve as a reminder: LAFC has still never won in Carson.
“It’s tough coming here, and we know what kind of game we’re getting into,” said LAFC defender Tristan Blackmon. “A lot of us have been in these games before and we have to recognize the type of game it’s going to be and really step up as leaders.”
Since the inception of this rivalry, the drive down the 110 freeway has been a nightmare for the Black and Gold. Not only have they never won a road game against the Galaxy, they've only managed one draw in five games. First it was Zlatan’s heroics doing most of the damage, and now Chicharito's off and running with a goal and assist in his first crack at LAFC
Despite having the most important El Tráfico win thus far, LAFC still doesn't feel like it has the mental edge in the rivalry. Saturday's game is one coach Bob Bradley’s group expected to win. Their core tactics yielded 61% possession and a relentless high press. In the one instance they found a way to connect the dots, it resulted in a picture-perfect equalizer courtesy of reigning Golden Boot winner Diego Rossi.
“I thought at 1-1 we needed to really take control and finish them off, and we just didn’t find a way to do it,” Bradley said.
The hosts remained sturdy behind the play of goalkeeper Johnathan Bond, and pounced on a defensive error to once again snatch bragging rights. It’s not necessarily that the Galaxy are the better team, but they show a different type of resilience when up against LAFC.
New coach Greg Vanney and the culture he's restored in a few short months has confidence high around the club, and Saturday’s win will continue to boost it.
“We’re trying to establish a style,” said Bond, who has been arguably the Galaxy’s best offseason acquisition. “We’re a new team trying to gel. But in that learning process that we’re in at the moment, and will be in probably for some time, we’re grinding out results.”
And that’s perhaps the scariest part for LAFC.
“I think we played with a lot of heart, and that’s how you win these games,” dos Santos said. “Very happy to get the win and show that the Galaxy is still here.”
He finished up his postgame media conference with a smile, wink and dose of truth. At least until LAFC does something about it.
“Gracias, L.A. is ours.”
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