El Trafico triumph over LAFC has Galaxy believing again: We can win it all

CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy were reeling a week ago, trying to come to terms with a deplorable outing in a one-sided California Clasico defeat that served to illustrate the deficiencies likely to get in the way of their most coveted aspirations in the first year under a new regime.

They responded in Week 20 in the best way possible, putting together a dazzling performance to dominate crosstown rival Los Angeles Football Club -- hands down, the best team in Major League Soccer -- and restore their belief that the biggest trophies available this year could be theirs.

The 3-2 triumph at Dignity Health Sports Park, built on Zlatan Ibrahimovic's hat trick and a superb defensive showing all over the field, shoved the Galaxy (12W-8L-1D) back into the Supporters' Shield and Western Conference chases that LAFC (14W-3L-4D) had appeared to all but have nailed down.

“Seven days ago, I came here and say we deserve to lose against San Jose, we play so bad after 5-10 minutes in the first half,” head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said after the Galaxy extended its record to 2W-0L-2D in the El Trafico derby. “But today we play 90 minutes brilliant. ... Even we can play better. I think we keep fighting and we keep playing like today, we will be a very danger team, for sure.”

The Galaxy looked dangerous most of the night, repeatedly testing Tyler Miller -- they'd have netted five or six goals if not for a strong showing from LAFC's goalkeeper -- outshining the archrivals' revered midfield, and limiting the effectiveness of MVP/Golden Boot frontrunner Carlos Vela, who had his quietest two-goal game in some time.

Schelotto's side was organized in the back, extremely vibrant in midfield -- particularly Jonathan Dos Santos and Joe Corona, both superb defensively -- and effective on the flanks. Everyone in white played well.

The rivalry had something to do with it.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates his first goal in front of the LAFC bench and head coach Bob Bradley | Kelvin Kuo/USA Today Sports Images

“It's not every single week we play against LAFC,” Ibrahimovic said. “Today was about rivalry game, two teams from the same city, and we need to get this attitude for every game. The last game before this one was very poor, was probably the worst game we did. And today was probably the best game we did.”

It bolstered confidence that was lagging after the debacle against San Jose, which outshot LA, 32-5 (16-1 for shots on goal), and might have scored eight goals if not for one of LA goalkeeper David Bingham's finest performances.

“The energy was there,” center back Daniel Steres said. “We were focused on locking down the middle [and] the important parts of the field, and I think we did that tonight. We made them mostly play around us. They've got a good center-midfield core there, and those guys have had better games, I think. I think we did a pretty good job on them.”

The Galaxy, of course, want to build on this, especially with a tough stretch of league matches over the next month, with successive trips to Portland (July 27), Atlanta (Aug. 3) and D.C. United (Aug. 11) followed by home games with FC Dallas (Aug. 14) and Seattle (Aug. 17), and then another El Trafico showdown, this one at Banc of California Stadium (Aug. 25).

“We wanted to show that we've had some fluke games. we've been up and down, but we're still competing with the team at the top right now, and we can still beat anyone on any day,” Steres said. “We can't take a step back now. We've got to go forward from this and use this and build off of it.”

LA, which vaulted into second place in the Shield and Western standings, sits nine points behind LAFC. They've got 13 games over three months to take care of that deficit.

LAFC's Carlos Vela is surrounded by LA Galaxy players during the July 19 El Trafico match won by the Galaxy 3-2 | Kelvin Kuo/USA Today Sports Images

“Is very important, these three points,” Schelotto said. “We miss three points last Friday [against the Earthquakes]. We played bad and we deserve that, but today we win. We deserve that, and we are fighting for [a top spot in the table]. The more important thing ... is to reach the playoffs.”

A top-seven finish would get the Galaxy to the postseason, but winning the Supporters' Shield would be nicer. And winning a sixth MLS Cup, that would be even better.

“If we continue to play the way we did and we continue to fight the way we did today, I think we can win it all,” said Julian Araujo, who assisted Ibrahimovic's first goal and looked good going both ways in his first game as a winger, as opposed to an outside back, since his AYSO days.

“Just like everybody was saying, the last game against San Jose, we didn't go out the way we did today, and if we did, we would have beat them. And if we continue to do what we did today, I think we'll win it all.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic sends LAFC's Latif Blessing flying as he celebrates one of his three goals in El Trafico | Kelvin Kuo/USA Today Sports Images