LAFC hands LA Galaxy first loss of the season, 2-1

Sujey Luna - The Sporting Tribune
Denis Bouanga’s penalty kick in the 35th minute proved to be the difference as LAFC give the Galaxy their first loss of the season.

LOS ANGELES — The dream start to LA Galaxy’s season came to an end at the hands of their fiercest and geographically closest rival, as LAFC defeated them 2-1 ending their unbeaten streak at six matches.  

The 22nd El Tráfico between LAFC and their crosstown rival LA Galaxy was a showstopper as usual, replete with social media banter, controversial referee calls, and most importantly, goals. Historically, in true derby fashion, most editions of this match-up have been close score lines (only 3 have had goal differences greater than 2),  and today was no exception to the rule. First-half goals from LAFC’s Timothy Tillman, Denís Bouanga and, LA Galaxy’s Julian Aude netting his first MLS goal, highlighted the afternoon’s action. 

”They sat in a relatively low block, they waited to try to turn us over and they broke out,” Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney said after the loss. “I think because we were chasing the game through large stretches, we exposed ourselves sometimes in the counters that certainly gave them opportunities. The one thing they certainly are, is fast and powerful on the other side.”

The Galaxy had to make some last minute adjustments to the backline, as Edwin Cerillo started at centerback due to Eric Zavaleta suffering a concussion during training Friday. Usual starter Martin Caceres went down with an injury last week against Seattle and is “almost” ready to return to action, according to Vanney.

Tillman was first to score, as he readily caught an assist from the Black and Gold’s captain, Ilie Sánchez, off a corner kick by Mateusz Bogusz in the 4th minute, notching his second all-time goal against the Galaxy and fourth of the season. “Timmy’s coming into a stage of his career that he’s becoming a veteran of our league,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said. “He’s been maybe, through this season, our most consistent performer.”

Julian Aude’s captivating debut goal in a Galaxy uniform took a few tries, with his first shot bouncing off the post and his second shot being saved before his third shot on goal found the back of the net to even the score, 1-1 in the 29th minute. 

Minutes later, Miki Yamane was called for a foul after tackling Denis Bouanga. Following a lengthy review from VAR, Bouanga stepped up to the spot and converted his penalty kick to put LAFC back on top, 2-1, late in the first half. It was his 6th career goal against the Galaxy.

The second half saw stifled shots from both sides, with LAFC aggressively attempting 10 times and the Galaxy twice. LAFC’s disciplined tactic of preventing the Galaxy from playing to their strengths in the midfield worked – they accumulated 20 fouls. “I’d much prefer a foul than letting Riqui Puig walk through the midfield,” Cherundolo explained, as he defended his side’s assertive approach stopping the Galaxy in their tracks.

Unable to move the ball vertically for much of the match, the Galaxy tried to gain control of the midfield by switching to a three-man backline.  Miguel Berry entered in the 76th for Julian Aude, playing up top alongside Joveljic, to no avail. The G’s were unable to find any rhythm in the second half despite the tactical changes.

”When teams take space away from us, we do need to be a little more patient.” Vanney said of his team’s performance. “We can invite teams out of those spaces and then play into those spaces when they open up, but as we go down a goal, I think there’s a little bit more enticement to try to slip things through the line and force things.”

A goal-thirsty LAFC were unable to finish in the final third to close things out, thanks in part to former LAFC goalkeeper John McCarthy’s seven saves. Bouanga, last year’s MLS Golden Boot winner, registered 5 shots in the second half, all of which were off target. 

“It’s frustrating to give up a goal early like that,” McCarthy said of his return to BMO Stadium. “I know they’ve got good players, they’re going to get chances. I tried to take it chance by chance, one at a time.” 

LAFC’s newest signings, league journeyman Kei Kamara made his home debut and Maxime Chanot made his club debut, were brought on as late subs for the Black and Gold. 

For LAFC, the win, although not the rout they delivered two weeks ago at home against Nashville, was arguably their most important of the season to date, lifted them into 10th place in the Supporters Shield race, 5th in the Western Conference, and delivered their fans and players a heap of much-needed confidence after a lackluster month. 

The loss puts the Galaxy in second place in the Western Conference, just one point behind their next opponents, the Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass.

The Sporting Tribune’s Chandrima Chatterjee contributed to this article.