Soccer newsletter: Did LAFC get robbed in latest El Tráfico loss to Galaxy?
Hello and welcome to the weekly L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, the Times’ soccer writer, and today we’re looking at Carlos Vela’s vanishing act with LAFC, Raheem Edwards’ World Cup hopes with Canada and Landon Donovan’s return to Dignity Health Sports Park with the San Diego Loyal – this time in the flesh, not in bronze.
But we begin with Saturday’s El Tráfico in Carson which, once again, exceeded expectations with the kind of crazy conclusion that has come to define what already is the best rivalry in MLS -- and one of the best in U.S. pro sports.
This time the game was decided on a video monitor, with referee Chris Penso taking away what appeared to be a tying goal by LAFC’s Latif Blessing goal deep into stoppage time. It was the third LAFC score the officials took away because of an offside infraction, and the final of nine offside calls on the day against the visitors.
In a written response to a question from a pool reporter, Penso said Edvin Jurisevic, the video assistant referee, recommended he review the goal. When he did, Penso quickly determined LAFC’s Mamadou Fall “was in a clear offside position when the ball was last touched by an attacker.”
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Penso’s decision to overturn his own call of a good goal ended LAFC’s five-game unbeaten streak and proved so controversial PRO, the professional referees organization, took the unusual step of tweeting out the video Penson and Jurisevic used to make their decision, along with audio of the officials discussing the play. Watch and listen for yourself:
Not pictured in the video was LAFC’s reaction to the reversal. When Blessing scored, the players celebrated wildly. When the score was taken away, they just got wild and surrounded Penso, who responded by giving a yellow card – his 10th of the day – to Cristian Arango.
“I don’t want to complain about it,“ said LAFC midfielder Ilie Sánchez, who nonetheless disagreed with the call and told Penso so on the field. “We did everything to deserve at least a tie, if not more. But unfortunately, this time we have to go home with no points.
“It’s sad and disappointing. We did everything we could.”
Forward Ismael Tajouri-Shradi was equally disheartened.
“I will not say much because now it’s already done,” said Tajouri-Shradi, who also appealed to the officials. “The referee decides offside. We cannot bring it back, so we have [to] focus on the next games.
“That’s football. Sometimes you work hard, you do everything, but you don’t get the results.”
Galaxy coach Greg Vanney coyly wondered what all the fuss was about.
“At the end of the game I was just trying to get in to shake the referees’ hand and there was a bunch of people around them complaining about I don’t know what,” he said. “Offside is black and white. It’s not gray.
“It’s not for discussion, in my opinion.”
If it were the Galaxy who had lost the tying goal, it’s likely Vanney would have found a lot of gray areas to discuss. But then the El Tráfico rivalry has inspired many incredulous moments, beginning with the first game in 2018, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic came off the bench to score twice in leading the Galaxy to victory.
A year later an Ibrahimovic hat trick defeated two goals from Vela before LAFC sent Ibrahimovic off to an early MLS retirement by routing the Galaxy in a playoff game.
Saturday’s game, the 14th in the series, was supposed to mark a new twist in the rivalry with Vela and the Galaxy’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, World Cup teammates with Mexico, facing one another for the first time in MLS. There is little love lost between the teams’ supporter groups, but the respect the players have for one another was obvious during the pregame warmups when Vela sought out Hernández for a warm embrace.
Sánchez and the Galaxy’s Víctor Vázquez, boyhood playmates in Barcelona, also shared hugs while a number of LAFC players greeted the Galaxy’s Edwards, who played for the black and gold last season.
Once the game kicked off, that respect gave way to physical play and a playoff intensity that Penso, who issued six yellow cards after the 85th minute, had trouble controlling.
“There’s always an inner Los Angeles battle between the two of us, where we’re trying to not just set our presence in MLS but also just in our city,” Vanney said. “And for us, the Galaxy, to get back on top and to be the premier club. That’s what I said to the guys, that these are games we have to win, and not just because it’s LAFC. That’s one part of it.
“Because they’re big, difficult, tough matches. There’s a lot of attention, they feel bigger, they’re emotional and that’s what you have to do when you want to win trophies. You have to win these games. Whatever it takes, you’ve got to do it. Today was one of those.”
But it was a win the Galaxy (4-2-0) barely hung on to in what essentially was a game of two halves. The Galaxy dominated the first 45 minutes in taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Hernández, his league-leading fifth of the season, and Sega Coulibaly, whose score was his first in MLS.
LAFC (4-1-1) had its chances in the first half too, but Vela was ruled offside on one goal, then lost another when his shot at an open net hit the goal post. He had another apparent score negated by an offside call early in a second half LAFC otherwise dominated while outshooting the Galaxy 12-4.
The only shot that got past Galaxy keeper Jonathan Bond and counted came from Arango in the 79th minute, although there were several near misses, including a loose ball Edwards cleared off the goal line after a collision between Bond and Arango on the edge of the six-yard goal area.
Despite all of that, LAFC’s desperate push for a draw and the Galaxy’s gritty determination to hang on for the win were overshadowed by the conclusion. Hernández said that shouldn’t be how this game is remembered.
“I want to be completely honest. We know we cannot take out how the game ended, but we deserved the win,” he said. “We got the three points. I want that to be the narrative. I don’t want to take out the credit of this win because it was a VAR decision and that kind of stuff.
“Offside is offside. They decided. The result was that we got the three points. It’s a derby, man. We are fighting for the [pride] of the city. And we got it.”
Does LAFC’s captain deserve a demotion?
Saturday’s game was hyped as the first MLS matchup between Hernández and Vela, but it appeared as if only one of the two team captains really was interested in the narrative.
Hernández did interviews in the week leading up to the game and participated in a public-service announcement with players from both clubs urging fans to behave responsibly during the match. (That call apparently was heeded, with the Galaxy and Dignity Health Sports Park reporting no arrests were made during the match, although more than a dozen people were ejected from the stadium for violations of MLS and stadium policies.)
Vela, the highest-paid player in the league, did neither the interviews nor the PSA.
Hernández scored during the game then spoke at length after it.
Vela did neither.
Which isn’t to say he didn’t show up. He had two goals called back by offside calls, led his team with four shots and helped set up LAFC’s only goal late in the game. But he also had no impact on the game for long stretches. And even though he was wearing the armband, he does not appear in videos of several LAFC players surrounding Penso to protest the game-ending VAR call.
Arango was there and got a yellow card for his trouble. Vela was MIA on the VAR.
His four goals in six games is tied for second in MLS, but Vela no longer seems little interested in the duties of being a captain or a team leader. Even if he agreed with the VAR ruling, it cost his team a point and, like Arango, he should have argued the call.
When the game ended with LAFC absorbing its first loss of the season – in a match in which he lost two goals to offside calls and another to a goalpost – Vela had a responsibility to come before the media, as the captain and the longest-serving player on the roster, to explain the result.
But he declined, leaving the explanations to Sánchez and Tajouri-Shradi, both of whom are in their first seasons with the club.
Vela has less than three months remaining on his contract with LAFC and negotiations on an extension are not going well. So he has responded by sulking, doing as little possible for the club and the league when he’s not between the sidelines.
That’s a novel strategy and given his value to the team’s attack it might work. On the other hand, LAFC could decide to let Vela go and use his designated player spot on someone who both cares and scores goals. You know, someone like Cristian Arango.
Supporters’ Shield standings
Team Pts. W L T GF GA GD
Philadelphia 16 5 0 1 10 2 8
LAFC 13 4 1 1 14 6 8
Galaxy 12 4 2 0 9 6 3
Real Salt Lake 12 3 1 3 9 7 2
Austin 11 3 1 2 14 5 9
Dallas 11 3 1 2 10 4 6
Houston 11 3 1 2 10 7 3
Orlando 11 3 2 2 8 7 1
New York Red Bulls 10 3 2 1 10 6 4
Atlanta 10 3 2 1 9 9 0
Nashville 10 3 2 1 6 6 0
Charlotte 9 3 4 0 7 9 -2
Chicago 9 2 1 3 5 2 3
Portland 9 2 2 3 10 13 -3
Columbus 8 2 2 2 10 7 3
Colorado 8 2 2 2 8 8 0
Minnesota 8 2 2 2 5 5 0
Toronto 8 2 2 2 9 11 -2
Seattle 7 2 2 1 6 6 0
Montreal 6 2 3 1 11 15 -4
D.C. United 6 2 3 0 5 5 0
Cincinnati 6 2 4 0 8 14 -6
Kansas City 6 2 5 0 5 11 -6
NYCFC 4 1 3 1 5 6 -1
New England 4 1 4 1 8 12 -4
Vancouver 4 1 4 1 5 12 -7
Miami 4 1 4 1 6 15 -9
San Jose 2 0 4 2 9 15 -6
5: Jesús Ferreira, Dallas; Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Galaxy; Brandon Vázquez, Cincinnati.
4: Leonardo Campana, Miami; Sebastián Driussi, Austin; Dániel Gazdag, Philadelphia; Darwin Quintero, Houston; Karol Swiderski, Charlotte; Carlos Vela, LAFC; Lucas Zelarayán, Columbus.
5: Raheem Edwards, Galaxy
4: Ján Greguš, San Jose; Hany Mukhtar, Nashville
3: Frankie Amaya, Red Bulls; Michael Barrios, Colorado; Benjamin Bender, Charlotte; Yimmi Chara, Portland; Lucas Esteves, Colorado; Diego Fagúndez, Austin; Samuel Grandsir, Galaxy; Patryk Klimala, Red Bulls; Mauricio Pereyra; Luca Petrasso; Toronto; Brandon Servania, Dallas; Kai Wagner, Philadelphia
Edwards hopes fast start helps his World Cup quest
On Saturday, Galaxy defender Raheem Edwards became the second player after Niko Hämäläinen to play for both teams in El Tráfico. And inside both locker rooms Derby week is different from the rest of the season, he said.
“It’s a little bit more than three points, obviously,” he said. “It’s the battle of L.A. You want to claim L.A. So getting a win against your rivals is always a good thing. It’s a little extra boost to maybe your season.”
“It’s good for the morale,” he added. “You want to give your supporters something to brag about.”
In his last El Tráfico for LAFC, Edwards started and went 45 minutes in a 1-1 draw at Dignity Health Sports Park last October. This season, reunited with coach Greg Vanney, Edwards has played every minute of the Galaxy’s first six games and leads MLS with five assists.
He’s hoping that fast start might draw the attention of the Canadian national team, which last month qualified for this fall’s World Cup. Edwards has played in four games for Canada but the last came in a 2018 friendly with New Zealand.
“I just want to keep playing consistently for my team, for Galaxy, so I could possibly get a call-up,” he said. “That’s not in my hands. Obviously, I want to do what I can, which is play to the best of my ability.”
Vanney said he’s doing that.
“He competes. Period,” he said. “That is what drives Raheem. Outside of that, he’s a good soccer player. He’s courageous. He doesn’t back down from anything. And he takes, sometimes risk, and you deal with that, but he does it in a way that has loads of courage behind it.
“But again, the reason he’s here is he’s a competitor. And big games and tough games, he’s a guy you want on your team.”
Edwards, 26, was born in Toronto nine years after Canada’s only other World Cup appearance in 1986. He said this year’s team has changed perceptions at home.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” he said. “Kids can come at look at players like [Colorado’s] Mark-Anthony [Kaye], [Toronto’s] Jonathan Osorio, guys like that, and they say ‘Hey, it they can make it to a World Cup, so can I.’
“Because people believe, it’s good. It’s good for the nation.”
Galaxy hope to take down ‘the statue’ in U.S. Open Cup
Last year, the Galaxy welcomed Landon Donovan back to Dignity Health Sports Park to unveil a statue of the team’s former captain next to one of David Beckham in Legends Plaza. Next Tuesday, April 19, Donovan will be back again, only this time the Galaxy are preparing what they hope will be a much ruder welcome.
The Galaxy will be playing host to the San Diego Loyal, the team Donovan coaches, in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup in Carson. Donovan has coached the Loyal, which plays in the second-tier USL Championship, against Galaxy II several times and has faced the Galaxy in a preseason scrimmage, but the Open Cup match will be the first against his old team in a competitive match.
The next night, April 20, LAFC is scheduled to play the Orange County Soccer Club in its third-round Open Cup game at Banc of California. OCSC was LAFC’s first USL Championship affiliate, although the teams ended that agreement after the MLS club’s first season in 2018. Three years later, OCSC won its first USL Championship title.
The winners of both Open Cup games will move on to the tournament’s round of 32 next month.
And finally there’s this …
Leonardo Campana gave Inter Miami its first MLS hat trick in Saturday’s 3-2 win over New England. According to statistician Paul Carr, just three of the league’s 28 teams never have had a player score three times in the same game: Austin, Cincinnati and Portland … For Bruce Arena’s Revolution, which last year broke the MLS single-season points record en route to the Supporters’ Shield, the loss was the fourth in a row and dropped the team to 13th in the 14-team Eastern Conference. According to stats service Opta, that marked the first time in Arena’s 18-year MLS coaching career that he has lost four consecutive matches.
Don’t miss my weekly podcast on the Corner of the Galaxy site as co-host Josh Guesman and I discuss the Galaxy each Monday. You can listen to the most recent podcast here.
“I enjoyed every minute of it. Great atmosphere. Twenty-five years ago, if you would have said we had this in a derby, you would have said I’m crazy. So this is an amazing progression of our sport and it’s great to be a part of.”
LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo on the emotion and excitement of his first El Tráfico, which also ended in his first MLS loss
Until next time...
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