If there was ever an edition of El Trafico that seemed like it might not live up to the fireworks we've come to expect from this rivalry, Saturday's matchup between LAFC and the LA Galaxy at Banc of California Stadium might have been it.
With LAFC's Carlos Vela and the Galaxy's Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez both sidelined with injuries, the match was missing two superstar forwards. LAFC's recent rough patch also could have taken some of the shine off, as they entered the contest on a seven-match winless skid.
None of that mattered one iota once the proceedings kicked off, as the Los Angeles-based rivals delivered one of their most memorable matchups yet in a series that's already replete with them. This time, it was a 3-3 draw that saw the Western Conference sides trade chances and goals throughout, culminating with a dramatic equalizer from the Galaxy's Kevin Cabral in the Heineken Rivalry Week bout.
HIGHLIGHTS: Los Angeles Football Club vs. LA Galaxy | August 28, 2021
"It's crazy, man," Galaxy defender Julian Araujo, who nabbed two assists, told reporters postgame. "These are the games that I've always grown up wanting to play in. This is why we play football today. These are the games why do [it]. But it was an amazing atmosphere, our fans were there with us for the 90 minutes and because of them we kept going. It was a very good game overall, the adrenaline was the whole 90 minutes. So I'm happy with the point that we got – obviously we wanted the three but it didn't go our way. We'll take the point."
With his team relinquishing the late lead, head coach Bob Bradley described it as a "tough game" that "feels like a loss" from LAFC's perspective, adding the result is even more frustrating considering some standout individual performances from his team.
Chief among them was the effort from winger Brian Rodriguez, who scored two of LAFC's three goals, the first of which came in spectacular fashion in the 59th minute. Dejan Joveljic, the Galaxy's new U22 Initiative striker, also scored twice.
The end result may have been disappointing for LAFC, but if Rodriguez's two-goal outburst indicates that he's ready to break out in MLS, it could very well be a season-altering development for the Black & Gold. Rodriguez arrived at the club with plenty of pedigree as a full-fledged Uruguay international, but managed just two MLS goals in 31 games since his 2019 move from Penarol before Saturday.
"I mentioned a few times lately how he's really open now to understanding the little things that we think will help him improve," Bradley said of Rodriguez. "His mentality has been good, his attitude has been good, there are some little technical things that we challenge him to do better. I remind him all the time to see situations and make better decisions on the ball. I'm so happy for him.
"The first goal he scored is just showing skill in the box and then an incredible finish, then he gets another one after that. So for me, I'm hoping that it's a big moment for him getting to the next step and being the player that we all know he can be."
While Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney praised his team's fortitude to get the point, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows in the visiting locker room either. Vanney said his team's defending continues to be an issue, as it was again on Saturday, particularly on the aforementioned Rodriguez golazo that saw him dart through multiple Galaxy defenders.
"A guy can't carve through us like we're cones in our box and put the ball top [of the net]," Vanney said. "It just can't happen, it's simple. All of us will be watching that video for the next 20 years on highlight reels and that's not a position that any of us want to be in. I was in one of those when Preki cut us up in 1996 a few times and it's not something you want to keep watching over and over for the rest of your career. But we need to get better on the first defending."
In the meantime, another wildly entertaining edition of El Trafico is in the books. The next clash between these rivals is set for October 3 at the Galaxy's home of Dignity Sports Health Park (8 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes).
"The two teams get after each other, push the limits," Bradley said. "The fans are into it and then you see a really good match. This certainly is another one."