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Galaxy and LAFC struggle to capitalize on scoring chances in El Tráfico draw

LAFC midfielder Eduard Atuesta controls the ball in front of Galaxy midfielder Jonathan dos Santos.
LAFC midfielder Eduard Atuesta controls the ball in front of Galaxy midfielder Jonathan dos Santos during a 1-1 draw at Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday.
(Katharine Lotze / Getty Images)

The Galaxy and LAFC spent much of the last two months struggling to beat anyone in MLS. So it was no surprise they couldn’t beat each other Sunday, playing to a choppy, unattractive and ultimately inconclusive 1-1 draw at Dignity Heath Sports Park.

Yet even a tie marked progress since it snapped three-game skids for both sides. However, it also extended the Galaxy’s winless streak to nine, dating to mid-August, and cost both teams a chance to improve their position in the building Western Conference playoff race.

With the draw, the Galaxy (11-11-6) remain sixth in the standings, three places ahead of LAFC (9-12-7). Only seven teams advance to the postseason.

“We know that we need to push till the end,” said LAFC coach Bob Bradley, whose team is five points out of a playoff berth with six games to play. “We’re not in the spot we want to be in. We can’t look backward. We’ve got to find a way to compete in every game.”

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The Galaxy and MLS honored Landon Donovan, arguably the greatest soccer player in U.S. history, with a statue unveiled outside Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday.

The Galaxy are just two points above the playoff line, meaning they’ll return from the two-week MLS international break Oct. 16 with little room for error.

“We have six games left that are six finals,” midfielder Victor Vázquez said. “It’s still on us because we are still in the playoffs. But everything is more tight.”

The game, played before a sold-out crowd announced at 25,174, matched the record for lowest-scoring game in the 13-match inter-city derby known as El Tráfico. But it started quickly, with LAFC going in front in the 11th minute when defender Mamadou Fall outjumped three Galaxy defenders to head in Eduard Atuesta’s bending corner kick.

It was the first time LAFC had led in four games and that was a bad omen for the Galaxy, who have won just once in 14 games when conceding the first score.

This one would be no different.

Although Samuel Grandsir evened the score in the 19th minute, running on to a Vázquez through ball, then rounding goalkeeper Jamal Blackman and pushing the ball into the wide-open net, that would prove to be the team’s only shot on goal. The Galaxy did, however, put two shots off the goal in the second half, with defender Nick DePuy beating Blackman with a header off a Grandsir cross, only to have the ball strike the crossbar. Ten minutes later, another header, this one from Sebastian Lletget, beat Blackman but hit the left post.

“This is football. When you don’t put the ball in the back of the net, you pay for it,” Vázquez said.

For the Galaxy, the frustration is nothing new. The team has scored just twice in its last four games and hasn’t had multiple goals in a game since the last El Tráfico in August. That was also the last time the Galaxy led.

“We’re at that time of year when you want to be putting multiple balls on net and you want to be scoring goals,” Galaxy coach Greg Vanney said. “And we’re fighting for every goal we get.”

After winning seven of their first 10 games, briefly leading the conference, the Galaxy have won four times in 18 tries since.

NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird was ousted from her position Friday amid an abuse scandal involving former Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.

But if the Galaxy’s season has been up and then down, LAFC’s has been a roller coaster. Bradley’s team had twice put together three-game winning streaks, only to see both followed by even longer winless streaks.

LAFC’s best chance in the second half also hit the goal, with Galaxy keeper Jonathan Bond pushing Francisco Ginella’s right-footed shot off the crossbar for one of his six saves.

Injuries have played a part in LAFC’s inconsistency with former most valuable player Carlos Vela missing the last eight games with a hamstring injury. The international break could help in that regard.

“On to the next game,” striker Cristian Arango said. “We’ll take the time off for recharging and recovery. We’re getting an opportunity to recover some players that have been injured. Now we can focus on the next match and what’s to come.”


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