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The Proof is in the Pudding: LAFC Cement Top Dog Status in the West

No debating it now: LAFC is the team to beat out West. 

After losing El Trafico 2-1 at the Rose Bowl a year ago, the Black and Gold celebrated a more enjoyable Fourth of July on this trip around the sun as they enacted revenge on rivals LA Galaxy with an identical 2-1 scoreline in Pasadena.

With the victory, LAFC extended their club-record unbeaten streak to 12 games (including 11 wins) while boosting themselves three points clear of the Galaxy and Real Salt Lake atop the Western Conference table.

In what may be the final edition of the Fourth of July El Trafico with San Diego FC joining the league next season, Los Angeles showed up for their clubs with 70,076 fans packing out the historic football stadium to follow up their MLS record-setting attendance of 82,110 in this fixture last season. Beyond the fireworks on the field (or those after the match), these games offer a moment of reflection on just how far soccer has come, both in the country and the city.

“It’s great to just see the sport in general growing to where we can pack the Rose Bowl…The fact that we’re bringing people out to these games, you can see the genuine passion and love they have for the sport,” shared Lakewood native and Galaxy homegrown Jalen Neal. “Soccer wasn’t the biggest sport in my area growing up but now to see almost everyone I know when I go to a Galaxy game now, or an LAFC game, or Angel City game, it’s having a huge impact on the city.”

The game, of course, has its own impact.

Though the scoreline may indicate a close match, the first half was nothing of the sort. LAFC made Galaxy look like anything but the second-place team they entered as by cleverly conceding possession, giving their opponents a false sense of security as they created the more dangerous chances through their deadly transition. Galaxy – who have become more direct in transition themselves this season – could not do so with their stagnant possession as star playmaker Riqui Puig was limited to hail-mary shots from 25 yards while creating zero chances all match. Eventually, the dam broke as Galaxy conceded in their favorite way this season – from a set piece.

Just before halftime, Kei Kamara hammered home a signature towering header (40’) to open the scoring while Denis Bouanga followed quickly with a penalty (44’) for a 2-0 halftime lead. Galaxy found their way into the match after halftime but the damage was done. Gabriel Pec’s lone goal (56′) couldn’t dig them out of their first-half hole as they fell to LAFC for the second time this season.

“I thought we were very good. In the first half, we executed our game plan perfectly. [We were a] little unlucky not to maybe get a red card I think the way we saw it or maybe another goal but a fantastic first half,” praised LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo postgame. “[The] second half was just lacking a little bit of control in our transitions to maybe not go to goal all the time and just possess the ball a little bit – take the sting out of the Galaxy – but the tempo was high, the intensity was there. We saw around the 72nd or 73rd minute they ran out of gas and then things were fine after that.”

Beating the team challenging you for supremacy in the city is always rewarding in a derby but controlling the game against a team challenging you for supremacy in the conference makes a statement.

“Of course,” replied Sergi Palencia when asked if Los Angeles is black and gold. “Both of us came in with the same points. It was a game for us to determine who Los Angeles belongs to and we took it. Respect to the Galaxy who have good players and a good team but today was our day.”

Winning the day levels out the all-time El Trafico record with each side winning nine times along with five draws and it is no coincidence either that the day was won by the same men who have been leading LAFC on their record unbeaten streak for the past two months. Bouanga’s penalty marked his 14th goal contribution in his last 10 MLS matches, bringing the reigning Golden Boot winner (14 goals) within two goals of Chicho Arango (16 goals) at the top of the league goalscoring charts.

In part, the Gabonese’s recent success has been a direct result of a fruitful relationship with Polish midfielder Mateusz Bogusz, who has 12 goals in his own right, with the two assisting each other regularly.

Over the past few matches, Bogusz has also formed another promising relationship which bodes well for the future of the reigning Western Conference champions’ hunt for more silverware.

When Kamara tied Landon Donovan for second on Major League Soccer’s all-time scoring list, Bogusz provided the assist. When Kamara broke the record, Bogusz provided the assist. And once again when Kamara rose above at the Rose Bowl, Bogusz provided the assist – marking his incredible 10th consecutive MLS game with a goal contribution.

Further, in the past three games in which Kamara has found a run of starts, Bogusz has a whopping seven goal contributions, including a brace and the first hat trick of his professional career. 

The LAFC front three is firing on all cylinders and Bogusz is at the heart of it all just as much as Bouanga. Just as integral to the team’s success as that of either individual, notably, is their unfettered forward-thinking mindset.

“It’s always one more. You always want one more,” explained Aaron Long. “At the end of the game, you celebrate, you can acknowledge that we’re on a great run right now [but] as soon as it’s time to get up for the next game, it’s just one more and that’s the mentality of the group right now.”

Winning the biggest derby in El Trafico history in front of 70k fans is great for three points but it doesn’t faze them. After all, they played in front of 82k last year.

Looking forward, the prospect of facing LAFC is only going to become more frightening for Western Conference challengers with newly-minted MLS All-Star Hugo Lloris getting more comfortable with every match and a blossoming Christian “Kike” Olivera returning from Copa America to this high-flying attacking trio. Oh right, there is another attacking weapon being added to the arsenal this summer as well by the name of Olivier Giroud who happens to be France’s all-time leading goalscorer at the international level and I have an inkling a certain Polish playmaker would like to form another partnership.

If LAFC can fend off unavoidable European interest in the services of Bogusz this summer, they have undoubtedly proclaimed themselves favorites to win the West. If not, they’re still probably favorites.


  1. This might be the best team ever assembled in the history of MLS. If not the best, arguably the most potent.

    I also continue to be disappointed that Atlanta United never even consider Kei Kamara when they had spots to fill on the front line. Daniel Rios is much improved, but I could imagine Kei scoring even more goals with the amount of chances that are created (via Lennon’s crossing) in Atlanta.


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