LAFC prevails over El Tráfico rival Galaxy in front of 70,000 fans at Rose Bowl

For seven seasons, the Galaxy and LAFC have shared Southern California. But until Thursday, they had never played each other while sharing the top spot in the Western Conference standings.

They didn’t finish the night that way, with first-half goals from Kei Kamara and Denis Bouanga lifting LAFC to a 2-1 victory in front of a crowd of 70,076 at the Rose Bowl. Gabriel Pec scored for the Galaxy early in the second half.

For much of the bitter crosstown rivalry, the Galaxy have been closer to the bottom of the standings than the top. LAFC, meanwhile, has the best record in the league since entering MLS.

That has often left one team playing for a title and the other one playing spoiler. That wasn’t the case this time.

“It looked to me as if the Galaxy players had something today to lose,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said. “They were not the underdogs today. And that’s a different burden.”

LAFC defender Aaron Long wasn’t so sure since nobody takes a copy of the standings into a game.

“It’s always going to feel the same, to be honest,” he said. “If you lose to them when you’re in first and they’re in last, it hurts the same as if you lose to them if you’re both tied for first.”

But when you win and break that tie? Well, it means a little more.

“That perhaps made it a little different,” defender Sergi Palencia said in Spanish. “Tied on points for first place, it was a very important game for us. We approached this match as a final.”

A final maybe, but it won’t be their last meeting. The teams will square off in September and, given the way both are playing, a playoff rematch in the fall looks likely.

Consider that LAFC (13-4-4), with its third win in as many games, extended the team’s franchise-record unbeaten streak to 10 matches and pushed it closer to Inter Miami in the Supporters’ Shield race. It has also won its last three games against the Galaxy. It is the hottest team in the league.

For the Galaxy (11-4-7), the loss, their second in 12 games, ended a four-match winning streak, the team’s longest since 2020, and dropped them into a tie with Real Salt Lake for second in the table on points.

The Galaxy are the third-best team in the Western Conference since April.

The two teams, which normally play in stadiums only 11 miles apart, moved their Fourth of July game to the Rose Bowl for the second straight year and were rewarded with the second-largest crowd in MLS this season and the 14th-largest in league history. And the 70,000-plus who showed up were rewarded with an entertaining game.

LAFC was better through much of the first half, outshooting the Galaxy 13-6, but it couldn’t beat goalkeeper John McCarthy until just before the break. After making two tough saves seconds apart, first pushing away Mateusz Bogusz’s right-footed shot from the top of the box then lifting Ilie Sánchez’s header over the bar, McCarthy got beat on a Kamara header, ending the keeper’s scoreless streak at 319 minutes.

It was the 147th goal of Kamara’s MLS career, extending his lead over Landon Donovan for second on the all-time scoring list.

“When the service is right, it’s kind of unstoppable,” Long said. “When he gets that running head start and he gets the jump, no one’s going be able to jump with him. Everyone knows how good he’s in the air. But when the ball is right and he times it well, it’s almost impossible to stop.”

A minute later, Galaxy defender Julián Aude tripped midfielder Eduard Atuesta at the top of the box, drawing a penalty that Bouanga converted for his 14th goal of the season. The Galaxy hadn’t given up two goals in the first half since an April loss in Austin.

But if LAFC dominated the first half, the Galaxy were more dangerous for much of the next 45 minutes.

Pec halved the deficit in the 56th minute, bulling his way through a pair of defenders before pushing in a left-footed shot from close range for this seventh goal of the season. The score also gave him a goal or assist in five straight games.

Joseph Paintsil nearly tied the game a minute later, spinning and launching a right-footed shot from the center of the box, but the ball sailed harmlessly over the crossbar. LAFC responded by packing the penalty area with as many as seven players in the final 10 minutes, finally breathing a sigh of relief at the final whistle.

“These derby matches, there’s so much you have to get up for, mentally and emotionally,” Long said. “So it feels the same, even though in the standings, it doesn’t look the same.”

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