But in the 16th minute, when the Black & Gold restarted Sunday night’s meeting against the LA Galaxy, the shoe was on the other foot.
Down 3-1 so early in the match, it was also the first time this season the home side were staring at a two-goal deficit at Banc of California Stadium. In fact, it was only the second time this whole season where the league-leaders were behind by multiple goals anywhere.
The only other time? When LAFC visited Carson last month and fell to the Galaxy 3-2.
While Sunday night’s matchup ended in a 3-3 draw, LAFC head coach Bob Bradley emphasized why he felt his team were the architects of the disastrous first quarter-hour as much as their opponents.
“I thought we had some moments where we were anxious to do the things that we want to do all the time but man we did them in such a [way]…we were so eager to make those things happen that we forced plays and played right into what they want to do,” Bradley told reporters after the game.
What the Galaxy wanted to do was capitalize on LAFC’s mistakes and counterattack, something they did with ruthless efficiency in both meetings between the Southern California clubs this season, but the Black & Gold coach feels it’s on his club’s shoulders.
“We did it to ourselves,” Bradley said.
Now five games without a win in the short history of the rivalry, LAFC’s inability to beat the Galaxy matters to the Black & Gold — the LAFC boss admitting that it “hangs over their heads” — but it seems to do so only in isolation. In the postgame press conference, Bradley pointed out how after the deflating loss last month to the Galaxy, his team went on to win five straight games — all of them against formidable opposition.
In fact, although the coach explained how the anxiety and nerves led to poor decision making in the first half, it was as if LAFC in Sunday’s second 45 played like the team the MLS has grown used to watching manhandle their foes all season long.
“He didn’t say a lot,” said defender Eddie Segura of Bradley’s message at halftime. “We knew that we needed to be more focused. He asked us to take control of the game how we normally do and to play our game and rhythm. In the second half, we were able to and found the game tying goal early. We had a pair of plays that could have changed the result of the game but we ended in a game and it was feeling like we wanted more.”
When Carlos Vela equalized to bring the teams level as LAFC battered the Galaxy in the second half, the sense was that the Black & Gold would go on to win the game. After not missing a minute of his MLS career over injury, the timing of Vela’s hamstring tweak and his substitution seemed part of a script written to keep that first victory just out of reach. While new Designated Player Brian Rodriguez did well on his debut in relief of Vela and LAFC maintained the upper hand throughout the second half, they were unable to find a winner.
“The response in the second half was great. We had a bunch of chances still. The fourth one was there for us, but it didn’t happen tonight,” said Bradley. “A lot of guys played well in the second half, not many guys played well in the first half.”
The brightest spot for LAFC, through both halves, was the play of Latif Blessing. The midfielder told the press afterward that the Galaxy’s preferred intimidation tactic — trolling LAFC with billboards outside of Banc of California Stadium featuring Zlatan Ibrahimovic pushing the Ghanaian over after his hat trick in Carson last month — riled him up in way that raised the personal stakes.
“I see the billboard and I was so mad,” said Blessing. “I feel like I need to go all out I need to do my best but it didn’t go the way we want.”
“The response in the second half was great, we created a bunch of chances. The fourth was there but it didn’t happen tonight.”— LAFC (@LAFC) August 26, 2019
Bob Bradley after our 3-3 Draw at the Banc. pic.twitter.com/QBp4d9jDMD
For Blessing and his teammates, beating the Galaxy is merely a proxy war for the bigger goal of continuing on their historic run for the Supporters' Shield, the points record, and, of course, MLS Cup. For Bradley, he took an ever wider view of the rivalry results thus far, on this season, and in the club’s short history .
“We like the football that we play and we think we’re a good team and to build something that’s really going to stand up over time, not everything is coming easy. Clearly, this idea of beating the Galaxy so far, yeah, that hasn’t come easy but it hasn’t stopped us from continuing to grow as a team, continuing to try to improve, continue to build on our ideas,” he explained
And while no win has come yet in the rivalry, Bradley welcomes a playoff meeting with the Galaxy, where the game would finally take on more meaning than local bragging rights.
“Sure,” said the LAFC boss when asked if he’d like to play them again in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. “It’s good because its two teams in L.A., two different fan bases, honestly two different ideas. I’m not providing all the answers but if you look at them and what they’re about and how they play, and then you look at how we play and where our players come from and everything else, there’s two very different identities there.”