There’s nothing quite like Major League Soccer, and within MLS there’s nothing even remotely like El Tráfico.
LAFC and the LA Galaxy always deliver utterly wild games, and their Western Conference playoff clash was right up there with the best of them. A back-and-forth match saw LAFC — who took the lead three different times — pick up a stoppage-time winner from Cristian Arango to emerge 3-2 victors.
The pre-game story was about who wasn’t there. Gareth Bale was left out entirely for LAFC, while Juventus legend Giorgio Chiellini ended up playing roughly three minutes as a last-gasp substitute.
This being El Tráfico, though, something bonkers was sure to come along to change the subject. Fortunately, Riqui Puig delivered just 12 minutes in, in the strangest fashion. Puig burst into the LAFC box and went down under very modest contact. He wasn’t going to get a call, and Jesús Murillo was pretty displeased with the former Barcelona midfielder’s pursuit of a penalty.
Murillo offered some harsh words. Puig? A headbutt…or at least an attempt at a headbutt? Fox Sports 1 never got a truly conclusive angle of Puig at least making a solid attempt at shutting Murillo up with his forehead.
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Referee Allen Chapman had a huge choice to make, and opted to ignore the whole “that’s a headbutt” side of things, giving Puig a yellow card and the Galaxy a huge break.
With the game properly amped up in the overheated tradition of this particular rivalry, it was time for goals. Despite spending much of the early exchanges fending off long spells of Galaxy possession, LAFC broke the deadlock in the 23rd minute. It was their best sequence of the half by far, as LAFC connected over a dozen passes before Carlos Vela produced a splendid through ball. Slashing between the center backs, Dénis Bouanga had no trouble firing past Jonathan Bond.
Still, the Galaxy were looking confident, and got level through their rivalry ace Samuel Grandsir. The French winger has taken plenty of flack from Galaxy fans for a lack of production, and for good reason. Against anyone other than LAFC in 2022, he has a meager two goals and three assists.
Against their biggest rivals, though? Grandsir entered the match with one goals and four assists in three total meetings this year, and picked up another goal by smashing home after Eddie Segura’s poor clearance attempt fell to him.
The tempo seemed to drain out of the game at halftime, though it was probably just El Tráfico taking a break before coming back for the big finish. Things stayed weird, though, especially when Vela signaled for a substitution tracking back from a corner kick. Once Steve Cherundolo moved to bring Kwadwo Opoku on for him, there was confusion as the captain seemed to want to stay in, and then very reluctantly trudged off.
Normally that would be a massive storyline, but with what was to come, it will likely end up forgotten. First, LAFC took the lead through Bouanga, who tapped in at the back post after Ryan Hollingshead’s low cross was glanced to him by Opoku’s lunging touch.
The Galaxy needed a goal desperately, but in Dejan Joveljić they had the best player for the situation. Already an MLS record holder thanks to his eight goals as a substitute in 2022, it took the Serbian striker just 86 seconds after subbing on to tie things up.
Victor Vazquez tried to slip Chicharito in, and Joveljić actually appeared to intercept the pass. However, instead of helping LAFC, he just sized up his angle and curled a tremendous shot past Maxime Crepeau to tie things up in the 85th minute.
But this is El Tráfico, and if there’s time for something to be wild, it’ll be wild. LAFC won a corner kick three minutes into stoppage time, and Kellyn Acosta’s back-post service found Bouanga unmarked at the back post. Bouanga tried to sneak in a shot to give himself a hat trick, and though Bond managed to react in time to keep it out, he couldn’t stop Arango from stabbing the rebound home, sending Banc of California Stadium into bedlam.