Los Angeles FC crushed rivals LA Galaxy 6-2 on Saturday night in another barnstorming El Trafico clash.
The Galaxy, playing without star striker Javier Hernandez, took the lead twice in the first half with an own goal from Latif Blessing and a retaken Cristian Pavon penalty.
However, it was Diego Rossi who was the star, stepping up with four goals for the Black and Gold, who were also able to find the net through veteran Bradley Wright-Phillips and a scorcher from Mohamed El-Munir.
The result leaves Bob Bradley’s men with a clear path through to the MLS is Back knockout rounds while for Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s Galaxy, it looks like an early exit from Orlando.
So, what did we learn from Saturday’s breathless encounter?
1. Strange Surroundings, Same Old Rivalry
When the groups were drawn for MLS is Back, arguably the standout group-stage fixture was this match. El Trafico, the LA Derby, the 12-mile Derby, whatever you want to call it, LAFC vs LA Galaxy just delivers.
There may not have been a crowd to generate a unique atmosphere at this one, but those on the pitch didn’t seem to care. Defenders forgot how to defend, the referee made bold calls, strikers finished their chances and normally ultra-reliable stalwarts scored own goals.
FT: One-way traffic. #LAFCvLA pic.twitter.com/cNDs6Nax1c
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 19, 2020
This match is the gift that keeps on giving more than any other in Major League Soccer and whether you were watching late at night on the east coast, at a reasonable hour in the west, or in the early hours of the morning over in Europe, it was worth every single second once again.
2. BWP Proves Bradley Right Again
One of the big pre-tournament questions was how LAFC would cope without talisman and league MVP, Carlos Vela. However, it’s easy to forget Bradley had already planned for the eventuality of having his star player unavailable with the signing of veteran goalscorer, Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Sure, BWP didn’t have the best final season with New York Red Bulls in 2019 but how often can you get a goalscorer of his calibre and MLS experience on a free?
It took just 19 minutes of LAFC’s clash with Houston Dynamo for Wright-Phillips to make his mark, peeling away from the opposition centre-backs to give himself an easy tap-in, levelling it up at 1-1 at the time.
And on Saturday night, Wright-Phillips was at it again, digging out a wonderfully clinical finish to round off an LAFC counter-attack which saw the Black and Gold go from one box to the other in seconds, via an Eduard Atuesta pass and driving Rossi run.
Another game, another goal for @BWPNINENINE!!!#LAFCvLA 3-2 pic.twitter.com/Q4yHnEdWav
— LAFC (@LAFC) July 19, 2020
The goal came just moments after Pavon had seen a strike of his own disallowed for the Galaxy and once again vindicated Bradley’s decision to take a chance on this 35-year-old MLS legend.
3. Atuesta Runs The Midfield In Another Audition Performance
Given the intense interest surrounding him from Europe, it feels like every game Eduard Atuesta plays for LAFC right now is an audition. On Saturday, the Colombian certainly passed all tests put to him once again.
The 23-year-old was the beating heart of the LAFC midfield, completing 45 passes and linking brilliantly with the likes of Blessing and Mark-Anthony Kaye alongside him.
Atuesta was also the catalyst of a number of swift Black and Gold counters, picking up possession deep inside his own half and slicing through the Galaxy with some brilliant line-breaking passes, just as he did for Rossi’s second of the night and Wright-Phillips’ goal just after half-time. Sure, he had just made a terrible mistake before LAFC’s third goal and was lucky to see a Pavon strike ruled out for offside, but the swiftness with which he put that error behind him to re-assert midfield control was a real indicator of his true quality.
That all came from Atuesta taking the ball down out of the air like a god.
What. A. Talent! #LAFC #LAGalaxy #MLSisBack
— Chris Smith (@CJSmith91) July 19, 2020
And it wasn’t just his ball-playing which caught the eye with Atuesta as the former Independiente Medellín man more often than not found himself as the one cutting out LA Galaxy attacks. Whether by intelligent positioning or just merely covering ground quicker than those around him, Atuesta was able to make four interceptions, three tackles and four clearances in an efficient, dominant and ambitious display.
You get the feeling Atuesta just added a few more dollars to his price-tag.
4. Galaxy’s MLS Is Back Hopes In Tatters
With Javier Hernandez sidelined with a calf injury, there was plenty of interest around just how the Galaxy would approach this match. Curiously, the early signs were very good.
Twice Schelotto’s men took the lead thanks to a Blessing own goal and Pavon penalty and during the first half at least, they seemed to abandon their crossing obsession in favour of a more measured and methodic approach.
However, the half-time break seemed to suck the life out of the Galaxy and in the second half, they were taken apart by a dominant LAFC performance.
Time and again as the Galaxy came forward, attacks broke down as the likes of Atuesta and Blessing mopped up and disrupted before kick-starting LAFC counter-attacks, and Schelotto’s backline looked absolutely clueless when it came to dealing with the pace of Rossi, Brian Rodriguez and Co.
A tired Galaxy defence was picked off at will and in the end, the 6-2 scoreline was something of a disservice to LAFC’s performance.
Such a heavy second defeat gives the Galaxy little chance of going through to the knockout rounds of this tournament as a third-placed wildcard and right now, they’ll probably just be wondering how quickly they can get out of Orlando.
5. Rossi Makes History To Sink The Galaxy
If we’re going to wax lyrical about Wright-Phillips stepping up in Vela’s absence, it’s only fair to mention the guy who scored a four here to extend his record to six MLS goals in four games this season, Diego Rossi.
The first @LAFC hat trick (and the very first player to score four) in #ElTrafico.
Have a night, Diego Rossi! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/opLhr14FdO
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 19, 2020
The Uruguayan is another of this talented LAFC bunch drawing envious glances from Europe and once again, he was absolutely electric here.
First, he drew his side level at 1-1 with a brilliantly placed penalty in the 13th minute, while he doubled his tally to level LAFC again just before the break, clinically firing home a rebound after David Bingham had initially saved Wright-Phillips’ effort.
And in the second half, with the game becoming stretched as the Galaxy searched for an equaliser having fallen behind on 56 minutes, Rossi completed his hat-trick to put the game beyond doubt, finishing first-time after being squared up by forward partner Rodriguez.
Of course, Rossi wasn’t done there and even had time to poke home his fourth and his team’s sixth in second-half stoppage time. The 22-year-old becomes the first player to score four goals in a single MLS game against the Galaxy since Mamadou Diallo in June 2002.
The power has well and truly shifted in Los Angeles.