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El Trafico Game 5: Blessing Seeks Revenge, and Galaxy's Pavon and Zlatan Give Master Class

Updated: Oct 9, 2019

There was a time when LAFC fans saw Galaxy's Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the pitch and applauded him with admiration. Back in March 2018 when the two sides first met, he had just become the latest, greatest European pro to join Major League Soccer. So when LAFC conceded a 3-0 lead to lose 4-3 that day, there was no shame in it. Ibra was majestic and Galaxy was a more established club, with four Supporters' Shields under their belt.

It's now August 2019. And everything has changed.

Maybe it was the constant comparison between LAFC star Carlos Vela and Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Maybe it was Ibra calling himself a Ferrari and LAFC players Fiats. Maybe it was the indented skull injury on LAFC defender El-Munir courtesy of Zlatan's elbow. But things have definitely escalated. And those billboards? Well let's just say, there is now firmly no love lost between these two.

The LAFC v LA Galaxy derby on Aug. 25 at Banc of California Stadium was a highly anticipated one during MLS' Rivalry Week. Aptly coined El Trafico to commemorate L.A.'s most enduring trait, the matchup was billed as a battle for the city. While LAFC have a massive lead in both the Western and Eastern conference, will most likely clinch the Suppporters' Shield, and have already secured a spot in the playoffs (unlike Galaxy), they have yet to vanquish their city rivals.

In their past four match-ups, LAFC have lost twice, and tied twice. In the last game, Zlatan pounded three goals past the Black and Gold, and although Vela scored twice himself, it felt anticlimactic. Because all that antagonizing stuff Ibra was saying about being a God among plebes, a Ferrari among Fiats, an international pro gracing American pitches—well, it looked kinda true.

So when LAFC drew yet again 3-3 in their fifth meeting against the Galaxy, you bet it stung. One need only visit a chatroom on either side to see the powerful vitriol that has developed between the two clubs. Photoshopped images of Vela as Dora the Explorer, and Zlatan in a banana hammock are the tip of the iceberg. No more sobered respect for each other's squads. Instead, the delicious stank of a rivalry that has fomented and matured beyond its short lifespan. It's only been one year, guys. But this hatred is powerful enough to make MLS a regular, front-page story.

In the first half, LAFC suffered from an over eager midfield that left their backline vulnerable to the razor sharp combo of Argentine newcomer Christian Pavon, Zlatan, and Favio Alvarez. Within the first 16 minutes, the Galaxy scored 3 goals past Tyler Miller: 1. Pavon to Zlatan. 2. Alvarez to Zlatan. 3. Alvarez to Pavon (Pavon's first goal in MLS). Chaos in the backline, a midfield being outmuscled and outplayed, and a goalie that looks like he wakes in a cold sweat screaming Zlatan's name made for a half that belonged decisively to the visitors.

LAFC did manage to finish the first half 2-3, thanks to one Latif Blessing who was on a mission to win. He scored twice, first off a Eddie Segura-Diego Rossi cross combo, and second from a deflection that left him one-on-one with the goalie.

In the second half, when Vela equalized at 53 minutes, the home side looked markedly more confident, and continued to dominate in both possession and shots on goal. LAFC striker Adama Diomande had multiple hair-pulling chances inside the box, and when Vela was taken out at 63 minutes with a hamstring injury, LAFC's newest DP Brian Rodriguez promptly filled in to create multiple dangerous opportunities.

But the win was not meant to be for the home team. LAFC coach Bob Bradley emphasized that success takes time for a club. And while he acknowledged the players' mistakes, he is ultimately "excited about the football we are playing." For a team that is only in its second season and is on track to break multiple records, this draw doesn't seem a shame after all.

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