Finally, El Tráfico is truly a rivalry. Through five matches since March 31, 2018, Los Angeles Football Club had yet to record a win against the crosstown-rival LA Galaxy, but that changed Thursday night at Banc of California Stadium when LAFC pulled off a wildly entertaining 5-3 victory under the most important circumstances yet.
For the first time in the rivalry, the Galaxy and LAFC met in the MLS playoffs, the Western Conference Semifinals to be exact. All of the storylines were at play: LAFC’s first playoff game since setting new single-season MLS records for goals scored and points, new single-season goals scored record holder and MVP-favorite Carlos Vela versus Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the fact that the Galaxy were still undefeated against LAFC.
And with both teams so familiar with each other when meeting for the third time in the last four months, it was perhaps due to the unfamiliar that led to LAFC coming away with its first victory and advancing to the conference finals: Namely, the weak feet of key players.
First off, midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye did not end up dressing for the game as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury. This meant that league veteran Lee Nguyen got the start in his stead, but Nguyen was the LAFC player whose weak foot first had a palpable impact on LAFC’s winning prospects, and not in a positive way.
Throughout the first half, though LAFC went into halftime leading 2-1, Nguyen had trouble keeping possession for the Black-and-Gold coming out of his own defensive third because he kept receiving passes with his dominant right foot. There were multiple instances where receiving the ball across his body with his first touch being with his left would have at least put him in a position to be able to shield the ball from oncoming Galaxy challengers, but instead he took his first touch with his right foot, moving the ball closer to the oncoming defenders and into a position where the ball was between him and the Galaxy player, and not with his body between him and the Galaxy player.
To be fair, Nguyen was not the only LAFC player to make turnovers or made it take longer for LAFC to control possession out of its own third.
Luckily, the second half saw LAFC take care of the ball more soundly, and it led to plenty of more chances than it did for the Galaxy, and LAFC knocked home enough of those chances to earn the win.
But the off-foot theme doesn’t start and stop with the negatives. LAFC finished three of those five goals scored with the off-foot. And it started with Vela’s opening goal of the game.
Vela found himself making a run into the left side of the box when Diego Rossi laid off a pass for him. The MVP hopeful received the pass across his body with his dominant left foot now known league-wide and took a touch to tee up a shot. But as the trailing Galaxy defender lunged in anticipation to block Vela’s left-footed shot, Vela cut back to his weaker right and slotted home the game’s first goal inside the far post as the defender flew by off-balance.
Vela quickly followed with an easy tap-in goal off a beautiful run through multiple defenders by Brian Rodriguez, but the Galaxy tied the game at two shortly into the second half. That is when Rossi decided it was time to use his weaker left foot.
In almost a mirror play as the first goal, Vela now at the top of the box laid a pass off into the left side of the box towards the streaking Rossi. Instead of cutting back to his dominant right like most defenders might edge towards, Rossi confidently took a touch and sent a shot across his body with his left and tucked it inside the post to restore the lead, 3-2.
What ended up being the game-winning goal came in the 68th minute when Rossi again found space down the left side, beating his defender. Substitute Adama Diomande was making a run down the middle of the box towards the six-yard line, and again, Rossi made a crisp, clean play with his off-foot when he chipped a perfectly place cross off his left that Diomande slammed home at point-blank range with a header.
Perhaps the player with the most impact while being least effective with his off-foot all season, Diego Rossi, ended up being the hero that rid LAFC of its demons in the most unpredictable way. Time and time again during the regular season, Rossi either flubbed a shot or pass with his off-foot, or altogether did not have the confidence to use it and forced a cutback to his stronger right where the defenders were usually anticipating.
All in all, the surprise of Vela and Rossi using their off-feet so effectively seemed to show some extra target practice during the long break for LAFC. If they can continue to use both feet effectively, their opponents can be put off-balance trying to cope with their skills.
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