Major League Soccer's best derby — is there really any question about that now? — offered up a classic in Thursday night's Western Conference semifinal, and LA's defensive inadequacies, a theme running through most of its season, derailed an otherwise impressive effort in a 5-3 defeat on a hot, humid, smoky night at Banc of California Stadium.
Head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto was most complimentary of his team and his players and their performances, but the result — fueled by Carlos Vela's and Adama Diomande's two-goal performances and questions over offside on the second LAFC goal — was painful. Very painful.
“We didn't want to ever lose to them,” center back Daniel Steres said when it was over. “It will definitely fuel the team for next year.”
The Galaxy had won twice and drawn three times in five regular-season meeting with LAFC, but the Supporters' Shield winners absorbed early pressure, found an attacking rhythm through Vela, Brian Rodriguez, Diego Rossi and Latif Blessing, and led most of the way, pulling away with three goals in the final 25 minutes or so.
Schelotto thought it was brilliant, mostly.
“I think today we give a really good show,” he said. “Both teams play forward, offensive, trying to win. The game was very even. They score twice, we tie the game, and then you could see on the pitch Vela playing, [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic playing, Rossi playing, [Cristian] Pavon playing. Everyone give the best, and I think it was a wonderful game.”
Ibrahimovic saw too much of what ailed the Galaxy during a roller-coaster of a campaign to be as satisfied as his coach.
“No one wants to concede a lot of goals, and today, unlucky, we concede five goals,” he said. “But at the same time, we score three goals. I think the whole season has been like this: We score a couple goals but wen concede much more than we are scoring, and that's not the way you win, that's not the way you become champion, and I think we should be sad and disappointed.”
Ibrahimovic found the pace a little slower than usual, product primarily of Santa Ana winds that arrived Thursday morning and sparked several brushfires, the nearest just over the hills in the San Fernando Valley.
“I had a sore throat,” he said. “The air, something, was strange. I don't know if the fire outside was making the sore throat or something, because it was difficult to breathe.”
The Galaxy's approach was impacted by Vela's second goal, to make it 2-0, in the 40th minute. Replays raised questions over whether Rodriguez was offside on Blessing's through ball, which he redirected to MLS's MVP favorite for the finish.
Asked about it, Ibrahimovic responded” “Was it [offside]? Are you sure? Are you 100 percent sure? And you think we didn't know that? But the referee didn't know that.”
“What was [the VAR] doing upstairs? Drinking coffee with Magic Johnson? Exactly,” he said. “It's difficult, because if you have the VAR, it means the game is extra-controlled by the fifth referee upstairs, but if he's drinking coffee with Magic Johnson [who is part of LAFC's ownership group], then it's difficult to play the game. Because he has to be in control. [Referee Kevin Stott] didn't even go out and check. And he said he needed a signal from the VAR people to go out and check. So what is the VAR people doing?
“But I don't want to complain about that. We just lost, and I don't want to be a loser complaining about the referee, because it's not my level.”
Steres complained about the Galaxy's defensive work, agreed that it was a microcosm of the season,
“To be honest, I thought we got away from some things that we did well at the beginning of the year,” he said. “I don't know if it's confidence in guys, I don't know if it's fluidity of guys playing together, but we were a little too up and down, and for trying to make a deep run in the playoffs, we can't be giving up goals the way we have for the last two months, basically.
“There was too much getting guys behind, letting guys through. I mean, our of their goals today, I think most of them were basically tap-ins. All within our 6, and that's not good.”
The win gives LAFC the upper hand in the rivalry, even if the Galaxy still have a 2-1-3 advantage.
“They got the one that really mattered,” Steres said. “It was a tough one, we kind of gave it to them. Not a great game for us in the end, but they've had a great season, they played well, and they deserve it.”