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El Trafico: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s hat trick gets Galaxy the victory in testy match with LAFC

Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a hat trick in the Galaxy’s 3-2 win over LAFC on Friday.
Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a hat trick in the Galaxy’s 3-2 win over LAFC on Friday.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

It was loud. It was entertaining. It was physical.

But when it was over, Southern California’s cross-town derby once again belonged to a boastful Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored all three Galaxy goals Friday in a 3-2 win over LAFC at Dignity Health Sports Park.

The game, played before a deafening overflow crowd of 27,088 split almost evenly between supporters of the two teams, lived up to its hype — and then some. But it will be remembered for the second of Ibrahimovic’s three goals, with the Galaxy captain leaping high over LAFC defender Jordan Harvey — whose shoulders were at Ibrahimovic’s waist — to head in a perfect left-footed cross from Diego Polenta, putting his team in front to stay.

Earlier in the week Ibrahimovic compared his play in MLS to a being “like a Ferrari among Fiats.”

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Whatever kind of car he is, he can certainly negotiate El Trafico, as the rivalry game is called: His three goals Friday gave him six in four games with LAFC.

“I approach every game the same. I come with a lot of confidence, a lot of belief and a lot of responsibility,” he said. “It depends on me how the atmosphere will become.

“And I made it good today, I think.”

The hat trick came on soccer’s version of the cycle, with Ibrahimovic scoring with his left foot, his right foot and on a header. Carlos Vela scored both goals for LAFC (14-3-4), who have won a Western Conference-best 29 games over the past two seasons but have never beaten the Galaxy.

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ELLIOTT: El Trafico continues to deliver the makings of a great rivalry

But Friday they inspired the Galaxy (12-8-1) into what even Ibrahimovic agreed was their best and most passionate performance of the year.

“It’s not every single week we play against LAFC,” said Ibrahimovic, who had a game-high seven shots, five on goal. “Today was a different game. Today was a rival game. Two teams from the same city. Obviously we need to get this attitude for every game.

“Today was probably the best game we played.”

The smoke from the pregame fireworks was still hovering above the north grandstands when LAFC took the lead on Vela’s penalty-kick goal in the fourth minute.

The LAFC captain also drew the penalty, toppling over sliding Galaxy keeper David Bingham on the right edge of the six-yard box. After a stutter-step, he then slotted the ball home with his left foot for his 20th goal in his team’s 21st game, making him the quickest player to 20 goals in MLS history.

That wasn’t the start the Galaxy wanted because they had won just once in eight games after giving up the first goal — but it was a start that has become common against LAFC, with Vela scoring in the first seven minutes in three of the four cross-town meetings.

Ibrahimovic evened thing four minutes later, running onto a pass that Julian Araujo flicked over his left shoulder from midfield, eluding LAFC defenders Eduard Atuesta and Eddie Segura, then looping a right-footed volley past goalie Tyler Miller from the top of the box.

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And Ibrahimovic was just getting started.

LAFC Carlos Vela
LAFC forward Carlos Vela celebrates after scoring a goal during the first half of the game against the Galaxy on Friday night.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

After Miller batted an Ibrahimovic shot away in the opening minutes the Galaxy captain refused to be denied on his next chance, going high over Harvey to nod in Polenta’s perfect cross from the edge of the box in the 56th minute.

“When the ball comes in the box I just tried to stay focused. Because I know I will win the header. And I’m stronger,” Ibrahimovic said. “I was pretty sure I would score that.”

It was the kind of goal few in MLS could have scored — and not simply because Ibrahimovic, at 6-foot-5, is the tallest attacker in the league. He was truly a sports car racing a Prius, first fighting off Harvey, then willing his way over the defender to get his head to the ball.

“Since I came to MLS I’ve scored more goals with the head than with the feet,” he said.

His final goal, his 16th of the season — second only to Vela in MLS — came 14 minutes later when he beat Miller cleanly with a left-footed shot from about 20 yards. What appeared to be an insurance goal proved to be the game-winner when Vela scored again deep in stoppage time, matching Ibrahimovic with six goals in El Trafico.


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