Alright, everyone. Let’s take a deep breath.
Quite simply, LAFC got Zlatan’d. They ran into the buzzsaw that was Zlatan clutching the moment in front of him on center stage. Could it have been prevented? Probably. Did it seem like a story book as soon as he got subbed in? Definitely.
This is just the second time in MLS history that a team came back from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3. LAFC were on the wrong end of that.
The game was a tale of two halves for LAFC. The first half was really, really good, and the second half, outside of the first five minutes, was really, really bad.
The first half featured plenty of possession. It took three attacks at the Galaxy goal in five minutes for Carlos Vela to whip a golazo into the back of the net and put LAFC up. The defense was organized and rock solid. The midfield was dominating the Galaxy, and the front four of Diego Rossi, Marcos Urena, Carlos Vela, and Latif Blessing were not only able to constantly find space in the back line of the Galaxy, but it felt like they could practically stand in the box with the ball as long as they wanted.
LAFC were completely in the driver’s seat. There’s no two ways about it — LAFC dominated the first half. In the 26th minute, Vela put another ball in the back of the net, featuring some incredible ball movement from Ureña and insane control from Vela, reminiscent of Gio Dos Santos’ for Mexico against the United States in 2011 in the Gold Cup final.
The first half saw LAFC with the pedal to the metal. The Galaxy were on their heels covering for all of the space that LAFC was exploiting throughout the half. The match frankly seemed over at half. Barring a complete change in play, some critical mistakes, and a massive comeback, the Galaxy were not going anywhere. LAFC were on pace to drop anywhere from three to five on the Galaxy in the first edition of “El Trafico.”
...That is, until LAFC got caught asleep in the second half and got Zlatan’d, letting the Galaxy not only get back into the game, but end up winning it in added time.
The first five minutes of the second half were essentially the first half continued. LAFC created a couple chances, and it took three minutes of the half for Ureña to knock a pass in the Galaxy box off of Daniel Steres for an own goal, putting LAFC up 3-0. Then, the game seemed all but over.
Just minutes later is when the match started to turn. LAFC stopped being able to put together strands of extended possession as they were earlier. The pockets they were constantly finding in the first half were not being opened up anymore. The defense was being increasingly tested. The midfield could not hold the ball. Tyler Miller needed to get involved more and more in the box. The front four that had been so threatening were not getting service and could not advance into the box.
Whether it was attitude, complacency, tactics, or the Galaxy flipping the switch, I can’t tell. But I know that when the LA Galaxy were getting “Ole’d” in their own building, down 3-0 in the 60th minute, they took thirty seconds to get a goal via Sebastian Lletget, after a poor pass from Laurent Ciman turned into a turnover from Benny Feilhaber and gave the ball right to the Galaxy just outside the box. At this point, out of 10, with 10 being PANIC, the LAFC nervous meter was still around 1.5. A 3-1 final would have been a completely respectable result at the least.
Then, the Galaxy had LAFC completely on the back foot in a total role reversal. When Chris Pontius scored in the 73rd minute off an incredible Emmanuel Boateng cross, you can raise that panic meter to a solid 7. LAFC were not the team they were in the first half. Pontius completely beat Joao Moutinho to secure a header that Tyler Miller had no chance for.
And then, Zlatan Ibrahimovic came onto the pitch, and things were both exactly as expected and far more than we could have ever anticipated.
The Zlatan goal in the 77th minute was immaculate. There was little to nothing that could have been done. Daniel Steres got his head on a ball that was sent into the midfield by Tyler Miller, and it fell to Ibrahimovic, who took the volley from over 35 yards away. Simply incredible. You can’t blame Miller, who was outside the six-yard box, because you can’t expect a mortal man (which Zlatan is not) to take that shot. Now, the panic meter is a full 10, because this went from 3-0 to 3-3, starting approximately 30 seconds after LAFC fans were saying “ole“ with every pass.
The game finished off exactly the way Zlatan drew it up: Ashley Cole whipped a ball into the box, after Ibra recognized he was offside and did not get involved in the play, and Zlatan (in an offside position, but okay) hit a thundering header past Tyler Miller. 90 minutes. There was just added time left, and LAFC couldn’t pull off the goal.
LAFC got Zlatan’d. Among other things. They played so well, with all aspects of the lineup clicking. Then in the second half, it all fell apart, and LAFC fell victim to the debut of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the first edition of “El Trafico.“
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