A nice step forward for LA Galaxy on an otherwise ugly evening in Carson

It all started with Raheem Edwards, who on the eve of Wednesday's El Trafico showdown in the U.S. Open Cup, declared that he wanted Los Angeles FC's vibrant supporters group, the 3252, to suffer.

“I want to beat LAFC so bad. I want to beat them because of 3552,” said the LA Galaxy's left back, miscounting the fans who cheered him on last season, when he played for the downtown rivals. “I want to piss them off, simple as that. I want to be honest, I want to piss them off ... leave them with a sour taste in their mouth.”

That's fiery bulletin-board material -- even more so on social media -- and Edwards, enjoying a fine campaign that has won him a recall to Canada's World Cup-bound national team, knew what he was doing. MLS, he says, is “too nice.” Things need to be testier, he said.

He got his wish. The Galaxy, responding to back-to-back home losses in which FC Dallas and Houston each netted three goals, romped to a 3-1 home triumph in the most contentious of clashes between the clubs. They looked great -- head coach Greg Vanney called it the “most complete” outing in his tenure -- while extending their dominance in the rivalry, but the picture was muddled by repeated dustups, two during action and another, far more pronounced, at the final whistle.

'It's not a good message that we should send to the people'

It was an ugly scene, pushing and shoving and trying to herd teammates (or foes) away from one scrum as another broke out a few yards away, and both sides decried the spectacle afterward. 

“Completely unnecessary,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said. “Both teams being a little immature and stupid. ... That is not our true face, that is not us.”

“It's not good,” said Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, whose wonderful second goal struck like a dagger. “Whoever had the fault, whoever started, whoever keep going, I think it's not good for everyone, not ourselves or LAFC. It's not a good message that we should send to the people here in the stadium and everywhere.”

Added his countryman Carlos Vela, whose 20th-minute exit after tweaking his left quadriceps, started LAFC's downfall: “Not what we want to be. It's not what the club wants to be.” 

The finish was not what Edwards was looking for, either, but it certainly slammed an exclamation point on the night's proceedings, making what can often be a tense showdown -- you can find videos of fans fighting on YouTube -- all the more so. Edwards wanted the “drama,” he wanted the spark, he wanted to see the kind of fire we witness in the “NBA and stuff like that.”

Mission accomplished, even if it went a bit far.

 “This one was the most heated one, for sure, that I've played so far,” he said when it was over. “I think the rivalry needs this. It's always so nice, I think, in MLS. You see teams in NBA and stuff like that, you need a little bit of grittiness, a little bit of fight, and a little but of drama. So I thought this was perfect.”

'MLS is a little too soft, in terms of players are too conservative'

His “3552” comment was meant to “get guys fired up. I also want the drama. I think MLS is a little too soft, in terms of players are too conservative, they don't want to look like the bad guy, but not even that. I'm not trying to be the bad guy. I'm just trying to light the fire up between both sides. If it has to be a comment [to make it happen], it's going to be a comment, and I thought today the boys were excellent. We were all over them, and it was great to be part of.”

It surely added to the spectacle, and the energy inside Dignity Health Sports Park, on the field and from the stands, was fevered from the start. The Galaxy were sharp, especially after the break, getting superb work from especially French wingers Sam Grandsir, who assisted two goals, and Kevin Cabral. who scored the first and was key in Dejan Joveljic's third, a one-touch redirection from Edwards' blast into the goalmouth that made it 3-0 in the 81st minute.

LAFC was on its heels after the departures of Vela and then left back Diego Palacios' into concussion protocol after he was undercut in the air by Hernandez in the 38th. That led to the first tête-à-tête, in which Jesus Murillo slammed Hernandez to the ground, which was followed by the requisite pushing, shoving and yelling nasty things at each other.

Hernandez and Kellyn Acosta, also involved in the brouhaha, were cautioned by referee Brandon Stevis, who had reason to issue another three or four yellow cards. Vanney pointed to that as the real start of the problems.

“Murillo got away with an incredible shove ... didn't even get a yellow card,” Vanney said. “He wasn't even identified as the player who made the action. I think those kind of things led to the ending. There was some emotion though that was happening throughout the game, that also carried over at the end of the game.”

It seemed to propel the Galaxy, and LAFC was never really in the game after that, was behind by two 13 minutes into the second half, and was flattered by the final score, aided by Ryan Hollingshead's 86th-minute header.

“I saw an LAFC team that was undisciplined at times ... preoccupied or occupied with the wrong situations ... and just not focused on what they need to do to win the game ...,” said Cherundolo, whose team, like Vanney's, is in the middle of many-games-in-few-days stretch while dealing with injury-related depth issues. “Sometimes when a few breaks don't go your way, and you're fatigued and you're not healthy, it can then look really bad very quickly, and I think that's what you saw tonight.”

The Galaxy, Vela said, “simply looked to win more than us.”

That's how it's gone in this series, which is nearly as one-sided as the Galaxy's with Chivas USA through its first five seasons. LAFC has won only twice in 14 SoCal meetings -- it's 3-8-4 in total, with a romp in the MLS is Back faceoff two years ago in Florida -- and is 0-6-2 in Carson.

The Galaxy want to consider their home base “a fortress,” noted Vanney, whose professional playing career began and ended with the club. The losses to Dallas and Houston, sandwiched around at 1-1 draw at Minnesota United in which they surrendered a late lead, defined the distance between aspiration and reality. They'd played some very nice possession soccer in those games, as they have throughout this campaign, but it led to little and mistakes and mismatches cost them at the other end.

Things haven't been good as LA (6-5-1) has faded after a 5-2-1 start, winning just one of their past five league games -- at Austin FC, Sunday's opponent at DHSP. They've struggled to turn chances, and too often half-chances, into goals, putting away more than one just three times and scoring only four in their past seven games. Only the New York Red Bulls, FC Cincinnati and D.C. United are worse at home than the Galaxy, who are 3-3 and have been outscored, 8-5.

When Victor Vazquez or essential sub Sacha Kljestan aren't on the field, the opportunities wane, and if Hernandez doesn't score, who will? He's got five of the team's 13 goals-- new DP Douglas Costa, who missed Wednesday's game with a thigh ailment, is No. 2 with two -- but had last hit the net in the 2-1 home win over LAFC on April 9, his fifth goal in the first six games.

They've struggled to beat low blocks and carve clear paths through crowded space in front of the net, and they've suffered on the defensive transition, giving up early goals, and often the counter. Individual errors contribute -- Edwards let Tyler Pasher loose for a superb second strike by Houston with LA down a man before they could replace injured Sega Coulibaly off the field -- but they get overwhelmed, too.

Vanney after the Houston loss “raged” in the locker room, Edwards said, but “it wasn't to rage just to rage, it was more coming out of a learning capacity. The coach told media he was critical that “we lacked killer instinct of any kind” and LA's propensity for taking too long when opportunities present themselves, making one more pass, “trying to make it more perfect.”

“The message is we play nice and lose games [and that's] unacceptable,” Vanney said. “We have to din the ugly and the fight and competitive side and the killer instinct to win games, to take what can be nice moments of soccer and turn them into real winning soccer. Which is the hard, nasty work that gets done in front of the goal. Who wants to get on the end of things in front of the goal? Who is going to run hard in that? That's the discussion with us, and asking everybody to step up and be the best version of themselves. And to take that responsibility.”

That resonated, and circumstances couldn't have been more perfect: a meaningful home match, loser is done, against the archrivals, and in just three days. The Galaxy made the most of it, dictating play nearly the whole way, opening space and creating chances, and recovering in transition to keep pressure on LAFC's weary defense. Cabral slid into the goalmouth to volley Grandsir's cross in the 51st, Hernandez stretched in the box to first-time another Grandsir serve seven minutes later, and Joveljic securing the win -- and a quarterfinal home game June 21 against the USL's Sacramento Republic -- from an intricate, five-pass sequence featuring two backheels.

“Our guys, I challenged them after the last game. They challenged each other and themselves ...,” Vanney said. “The competitive spirit, the energy, the speed at which we were moving and playing set the tone for the game. We stayed organized. We stayed connected. Everybody played on both sides of the ball, with it and without it. And we worked through the game and we found our opportunities, and we made them.

 “Our opportunities tonight were a little clearer than the ones that we've had in previous games, and some of that was just the pace at which Sam and Kevin were able to get out and break out, and the speed of our counterattacks, and some of our attacks that were happening so fast. When teams are sitting with these blocks of numbers, sometimes it's not easy to get clear chances. Today was more space, and the chances were clearer for us. ...

 “We made their entry passes hard to find. For the most part, we took away the space behind us. They did find it a couple of times, but we made it hard for them to play in between us. We made it difficult for them to separate us. And because of that, we were able to win balls in good spots. We were able to win balls between our lines, which sets you in motion for a counterattack, right?” 

What it means going forward, we'll see. There could be changes. Vanney says the club will “be looking at where we’re at when we get to the [summer transfer] window” and that “there’s opportunities that we’ll keep our eye on.” He says a number 6, a “true defensive midfielder who recovers balls, who wins balls, who organized your team, who has that presence” is “a piece that we really need.” There's much season to go.

But Wednesday was a nice step forward. Now they must take another.

“It was huge, it was important,” Hernandez said. “Now the most important thing is we need to show that against any team. That's the mentality and the mindset we should have. ... The mentality, the confidence, the hunger, the bravery that we show, we need to maintain that and [especially] in our home.

“We want to make [it clear to] every team [that] comes here: If they're going to take any points, they need to give the game of their lives, you know?"

Photos: LA Galaxy

1 comment about "A nice step forward for LA Galaxy on an otherwise ugly evening in Carson".
  1. Wooden Ships, May 27, 2022 at 5:58 p.m.

    Didn't see the game, but even as a smaller striker 5'8", I never bridged a defender. I see too much of it and Javier does this every game. It should be carded more often. Get up and challenge.

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