In rivalry games, records are supposed to be meaningless. The competition isn’t supposed to matter either. It’s just two teams, going toe to toe, for pride and bragging rights.
But all that is based on the assumption both teams show up. That wasn’t necessarily the case Tuesday night when LAFC and the Galaxy renewed their neighborhood grudge match in the U.S. Open Cup.
The Galaxy, off to the worst start in their history, started a first-team lineup, knowing the Open Cup likely represents their best chance at a trophy this year.
LAFC, the reigning MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield winner, rested its regulars and went with a team of backups and reserves. With the two-leg CONCACAF Champions League final starting next week, it didn’t even bother dressing its two designated players, Carlos Vela and Denis Bouanga, who have combined for 14 of the team’s 23 goals in MLS play.
Not surprisingly, the A team beat the B team, with goals by Tyler Boyd and Riqui Puig early in the second half carrying the Galaxy to a 2-0 victory at a half-empty BMO Stadium.
“It doesn’t matter who’s on the other side. Doesn’t matter who’s playing,” said Galaxy coach Greg Vanney, whose team was desperate for a win — any win. “These types of games are always difficult.
“You’re on the road against your rival, and it’s a knockout type of game. And this is a hard place to play, right? They don’t lose many games here.”
In fact, Tuesday’s loss was LAFC’s first at home to an MLS opponent since October. It was also the Galaxy’s eighth victory in 19 El Tráfico matches — no team has beaten LAFC more often — sending the team on to next month’s Open Cup quarterfinals against the winner of Wednesday night’s Colorado Rapids-Real Salt Lake match.
Most important, however, is that the win provides a huge boost of confidence for a team that is last in the MLS standings with two wins in 13 games yet unbeaten in two Open Cup matches.
“That keeps us in this competition. We’re three games now away from a potential trophy,” Vanney said.
“It doesn’t matter what the trophy is, it’s a trophy. For us, each of these games are important for different reasons. And ultimately, it’s also to try to win a trophy and cement some legacy with this group as we try to get back into the league [race].”
That’s a race that LAFC is leading. Although it bowed out of the Open Cup with a round-of-16 loss to the Galaxy for the second time in as many seasons, it remains atop the Western Conference standings, having lost just three times in 20 games in all competitions this season. With little left to prove and with the Champions League final looming, LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo choose to rest his regulars.
Despite that, LAFC dominated the early going with a mistake by Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann nearly resulting in a goal in the 21st minute. But Galaxy defender Calegari got his body between Stipe Biuk’s shot and the open net to keep the game scoreless. Two minutes later, Klinsmann saved a shot by Kwadwo Opoku at the near post. And then in the 30th minute, he dove toward the other post to bat away a bending free kick from Mateusz Bogusz from the top of the box.
Just before intermission, Klinsmann, who matched a season high with six saves, made two spectacular stops seconds apart, standing up a Bogusz shot from the top of the box and then leaping in front of an Opoku header off the rebound.
The Galaxy’s best chance of the first half came on a penalty kick by Puig in the 34th minute. But LAFC keeper Eldin Jakupovic guessed correctly and smothered the shot, extending the Galaxy’s goalless streak on the road to 627 minutes, dating to the opening half of the season’s opening game.
The Galaxy took over in the second half, with Boyd coming off the bench and getting the team on the scoreboard four minutes later with a left-footed shot from the center of the box. The Galaxy had to wait just three minutes for their next road goal, with Puig doubling the score in the 52nd minute.