MLS Cup playoffs: Galaxy top Minnesota to set up El Trafico vs. LAFC

The LA Galaxy players aren't the only ones excited they'll face rival LAFC in the second round of the MLS Cup playoffs after beating Minnesota United 2-1 Sunday. (Brad Rempel/USA Today)

Soccer’s Battle of Los Angeles is moving to the MLS Cup playoffs.

Cross-city rivals LA Galaxy and LAFC will meet with a trip to the Western Conference final on the line Thursday [10:30 ET, ESPN] after the Galaxy went on the road and beat plucky Minnesota United 2-1 in Sunday night’s marquee first-round capper.

The atmosphere in St. Paul was electric with the hosts making their postseason debut. But while the higher-seeded Loons had their chances to take the lead in a match that remained scoreless well into the second half, the record five-time MLS champions eventually prevailed on goals by midfielders Sebastian Lletget and Jonathan dos Santos.

The visitors had opportunities of their own before the opener, but Galaxy headliner Zlatan Ibrahimovic and wingers Cristian Pavon and Uriel Antuna couldn’t find the final ball as they had so often during the regular season.

Fortunately for them, Lletget broke the deadlock by cleaning up another broken attack with less than 20 minutes remaining in regular time:

Dos Santos added what proved to be the game-winner less than four minutes later. The Mexican World Cup veteran — who has been excellent for Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side all season — collected a pass in the midfield and unleashed a wicked right-footed drive that curled past former English Premier League keeper Vito Mannone:

Minnesota eventually pulled one back through Slovakian playmaker Jan Gregus. But just as coach Adrian Heath said at halftime, the match ended up being decided by moments of attacking quality, and the Galaxy’s two made the difference.

Gregus’ strike was simply too little, too late for the Loons:

Despite the defeat, Minnesota reached a new level of relevance in MLS this season. The gorgeous, recently minted Allianz Field provided a big-league stage for Sunday’s nightcap. This is a club on the rise. Meantime, the Galaxy have to feel great about their chances against LAFC.

On paper, knocking off the record-setting Supporters’ Shield winner is a daunting task. But the Galaxy still have yet to lose to their nouveaux riches neighbors, even at Banc of California Stadium, and you just know that Zlatan wont have a second straight off game in that one.

On a weekend where MLS’ new single-elimination playoff format earned a ton of plaudits, the first-round finale more than lived up to its marquee tag, then delivered the LAFC-LA Galaxy matchup that everyone wanted to see.

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