Ibrahimovic makes star debut in first LA derby

Posted on April 4, 2018

by Andre Sarkissian

The first soccer match between the LA Galaxy and Los Angeles Football Club took place on March 31, 2018, with the Galaxy running out 4-3 winners after being down 0-3 as late as the 61st minute.  Two goals from Swedish legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic within a space of 15 minutes sealed the win and gave Los Angeles’ original team a step above their new rivals.

As LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium is not ready yet, the gold and black club had a tough but successful string of away games, running out 1-0 winners to Pacific Northwestern powerhouse Seattle Sounders, and thrashing Real Salt Lake 5-1 in the beauty of Utah’s capital.  Coming into the game, LAFC must have been certain favorites to win this match.

The Galaxy, although not as good as LAFC had been through their first two games of the season, had seemed to have been doing better than their dreadful last season, defeating 2015 champions Portland Timbers in the midst of a 2-1 loss to New York City and a 0-0 draw in Canada against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

It’s safe to say that at the very beginning LAFC were doing much better than their rivals with a game in hand.  In the fifth minute of the derby, Carlos Vela’s fifth minute goal signaled to the Galaxy faithful at the Stubhub Center in the southern suburb of Carson that just because the Galaxy was there before, didn’t mean they would win the city over so easily.

A beautiful shot with the left foot curled around Galaxy keeper David Bingham gave Vela his second goal of the season and LAFC’s first in what is now called “El Trafico”, referring to the notorious traffic congestion in Los Angeles.

After being 1-0 down, the Galaxy’s game plan totally went out the window when Vela completed his brace after dribbling around Bingham and hitting a shot off the crossbar to double the advantage in the 26th minute.  The home team was getting thrashed on their own field to a new team that represented the “city” identity of Los Angeles, contrary to the “suburban” element that the Galaxy has always represented.

Another LAFC goal was added to the mix in the 48th after an own goal by defender Daniel Steres, who was trying to block an LAFC cross with his attempt only ending up with the most dreaded result: the ball in the back of the net.  The worst possible way to start off the season: seemingly losing, and losing badly, to their crosstown rivals.

But hold on: enter Sebastian Lletget, who decimated LAFC’s lead after receiving a pass from his teammate into the box and calmly put it past LAFC netminder Tyler Miller and gave some hope to the Galaxy, just after the hour mark.

That began one of the greatest comebacks in MLS history, with the next goal coming from a thumping header in the 73rd minute by the Galaxy’s new attacking midfielder Chris Pontius, who arrived from the East Coast after two seasons with the Philadelphia Union.  That made it 3-2, with one more goal drawing the game with less than a half-hour to go.

The Galaxy supporters had yet to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish star who signed from English giants Manchester United less than a month ago.  After being substituted on with almost twenty minutes to play, a short statement can feel his impact in the first El Trafico of the year and in history: Zlatan doing Zlatan things.

His exceptional volley from outside the box flew above Miller’s head in the 77th minute to put the game at level terms.  The Galaxy fans were yelling and screaming in joy as their new superstar was probably the most hyped debut in MLS history, topping that of legends such as David Beckham, Andrea Pirlo, and David Villa.

Ibrahimovic, although feeling like he played “40 games in the space of 20 minutes”, turned the game on its head after scoring with his head in stoppage time, winning the Galaxy the first Los Angeles derby in history.  What seemed like dismay turned into hope and reminded the LAFC fans to never celebrate too early.

The two teams will meet again two more times this season, July 26 at the new Banc of California Stadium, and August 24 at the Stubhub Center.


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