Vela leads LAFC past Zlatan's Galaxy for 1st playoff win 5-3
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Amid every unprecedented feat during Los Angeles FC's stellar season, one deficiency glared.
Carlos Vela and his teammates had never managed to beat the LA Galaxy in a rivalry series that has been sizzling for its entire two-year history.
With LAFC's season riding on the end of that streak in the clubs' first playoff meeting, Vela teamed up with Diego Rossi and Adama Diomande to make another bit of MLS history — and to move one step closer to a championship.
Vela scored two goals in the first half and set up Rossi's tiebreaking goal in the second half, and LAFC advanced to the Western Conference final with a wild 5-3 victory over the Galaxy on Thursday night.
Diomande added two goals in the second half as top-seeded LAFC earned the young franchise's first postseason victory. And after the best regular season in MLS history, LAFC finally beat the Galaxy for the first time in the sixth chapter of the lively crosstown derby dubbed El Tráfico.
"More is written about it than the time that we spend talking about it," LAFC coach Bob Bradley said of their 0-2-3 record against the Galaxy before this breakthrough. "But obviously somewhere along the line, you just need to do it. We all knew it was our time. It was that simple. When they beat Minnesota (to secure this meeting), everybody said, 'Great.' It had to be the Galaxy."
LAFC advanced to face the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday night at Banc of California Stadium. The winner faces Toronto FC or Atlanta United for the MLS Cup on Nov. 10.
LAFC was carried early by Vela, who scored his first two career MLS playoff goals after setting the league record with 34 goals in the regular season. The Mexican star has scored in all six editions of El Tráfico.
"After all the work we did, this is a big moment," Vela said. "We work for that kind of game. We want to be the best team with the best season in history. To hit that target, that's maximum inspiration."
Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a goal and an assist in perhaps his final game for the Galaxy while both teams put on a dazzling offensive show in front of a raucous sellout crowd near downtown Los Angeles.
While this chapter was played mostly respectfully between the whistles, it got rowdy afterward. Ibrahimovic grabbed his groin in response to LAFC fans' taunts on his way off the field, while Bradley tersely cut short his postgame television interview after a question about Vela.
"There was a lot of goals," Zlatan said. "That's always exciting and fun, but no one wants to lose. The whole season has been, we score a couple of goals and we concede much more than we score. We should be sad and disappointed. We made mistakes and they punished us."
The 38-year-old Swedish superstar claimed he hasn't decided whether he will return to the Galaxy next season.
"If I don't play in MLS, who will you talk to?" he playfully asked the media.
After Vela staked LAFC to an early lead and Rossi's sublime goal made it 3-2, Diomande scored twice as a second-half substitute in his first game in a month. He voluntarily spent the previous four weeks in MLS' substance abuse and behavioral health program.
LAFC needed all that offense to hold off Ibrahimovic and Romain Alessandrini. Zlatan set up Cristian Pavón's goal and then drilled home a tying goal early in the second half, his ninth against LAFC in less than two MLS seasons.
Alessandrini set up a header by Rolf Feltscher in the 77th minute to trim LAFC's lead to 4-3, but Diomande rampaged downfield to chip home the clinching goal in the 80th minute.
Vela put LAFC up 2-0 in the 40th minute with a tap-in off a pass from Brian Rodríguez, although replays appeared to show Vela offside in the build-up.
"The referee didn't know that? What was he doing upstairs, drinking coffee with Magic Johnson?" Ibrahimovic said, referring to the LAFC co-owner who participated in the club's pregame ceremonies. "If he is drinking coffee with Magic Johnson, it is hard to play the game, because he has to be in control. He said he needed a signal from the VAR person, but what was he doing? I don't want to be a loser complaining about the ref, because it is not on my level."