The day finally arrived. For the second time ever, LAFC played host to rivals LA Galaxy in a playoff edition of El Tráfico. Just like 2019, LAFC are fresh off a Supporters’ Shield winning campaign, and for the first time in their brief playoff history, come into this postseason healthier than in years past. They also come into the match with all the pressure of needing to finally, get over the hump, and secure their first-ever MLS Cup. First, they'd have to go through their rivals.
It took just 23 minutes before we saw the first goal of the match. After several close chances from the visitors, LAFC struck first with the go-ahead goal. Carlos Vela found the briefest of windows to put a pass through, and did just that, finding Denis Bouanga on the other side with a step on the defender and a clear shot on goal. He took that shot with class, and gave his new team the lead as he front-flipped for flair in celebrations.
I don't need to tell you jus how loud The Banc got at that moment. What had been a fairly tense opening 20 minutes, suddenly washed away as over 22k people exhaled and screamed in elation all at once as the ball found the back of the net. It was an early lead, and it was game on as looked to take control of proceedings.
Unfortunately nothing is ever easy in the playoffs, especially not getting past a team doing everything they can to ruin your night. Just before halftime hit, LAFC had a brief mental lapse that resulted in a clean look at goal for Samuel Grandsir. That look was enough to bring his side level before the break. Setting up what was sure to be a very chaotic, very aggressive, very wild finish.
The second half wasn't the prettiest football, but boy was it exiting and physical. The yellow cards went flying and so did the bodies in the final 45. There were dives, shoulder checks, shots on goal, hard fouls, dangerous moments, and there was still 30 minutes left at that point. Neither side found a goal as regulation wound-down with extra time and the possibility of penalty kicks looming o the horizon. Those are moments when the unpredictability of the playoffs really shines, and what LAFC wanted to avoid.
The legend of the 99 shirt continued to grow in this one, as the newest member of the club netted his brace in the 80th minute. A gorgeous cross from Ryan Hollingshead nearly found a diving Mahala Opoku but while it missed him, it found a waiting Denis Bouanga at the far post who tapped it in for the late lead.
LA Galaxy had one more ace up their sleeve, with the substitution of Dejan Joveljić and it paid off in spades. Just moments after coming on, Dejan found enough space for a shot from deep and sent it flying past Crepeau to once again bring the Galaxy level with minutes left in regulation. The mythology of this match only continued to grow, along with the tensions.
The man who can't seem to stop scoring in an LAFC uniform, Chicho Arango, did it again, in the biggest moment of his early career with the club. A corner kick was sent far, with the ball taking that ever dangerous bounce around in the box, and Arango found it and slammed it home for the lead in the waning stages of the match.
The goal was enough to punch LAFC’s ticket to their second Western Conference Finals. While this win is huge, and it means everything, it can't be overstated how important it is to remain focused on the big picture. We all saw in 2019 the emotional toll a win like this had, with a tough Austin FC or a feisty FC Dallas team set to visit LA in the near future, the team must remember the job isn't finished. This win was massive, and should be enjoyed to the fullest, but come tomorrow, it's on to the Conference Finals, and hopefully, a first-ever trip to the MLS Cup Finals.
How are you feeling right now LAFC fam?! Leave a comment below!