LAFC forward Denis Bouanga, shown controlling the ball against Inter Miami on Sept. 3, scored twice Saturday night in LAFC’s 4-2 win over the rival Galaxy. (Will Navarro / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
They weren’t exactly ships passing in the night, but LAFC and the Galaxy were heading in decidedly different directions when they collided in the fourth El Tráfico of the year Saturday night.
The Galaxy came in as one of hottest teams in MLS since late May, losing just once in 12 games. LAFC, meanwhile, had just two league wins in the last 12 weeks, the worst 10-game skid in franchise history. By the end of the night all that had changed, however, with Denis Bouanga scoring a goal in each half to give LAFC a 4-2 victory at a sold-out BMO Stadium.
The win gives LAFC a much-needed shot of momentum heading into the final month of the regular season while for the Galaxy the loss dampers their fading playoff hopes.
The Galaxy were buried at the bottom of the 14-team Western Conference, seven points out of a playoff berth, when they caught fire last spring. Yet despite collecting points in 11 of their last 13 matches the Galaxy gained just one spot in the standings, leaving them five points shy of the ninth and final playoff berth. With seven games remaining, the Galaxy (7-11-9), who have lost four starters to season-ending injuries, may be running out of both time and players in their push for the postseason.
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That stands in contrast with LAFC (12-9-7). Despite the recent slide, the defending MLS champions are second in the table after Saturday’s win. And coach Steve Cherundolo not only began the night with a fully healthy squad for the first time in months, he gave goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau his first league start since last November’s MLS Cup, which Crepeau left with a fractured leg. That was 315 days ago.
The game may mark a turnaround for Bouanga, whose two goals ended a two-month drought and gave him a share of the MLS scoring lead with 14.
He got LAFC started Saturday, giving it a short-lived lead in the 24th minute when he sliced between Galaxy center backs Chris Mavinga and Maya Yoshida to get on the end of a Diego Palacios’ cross and head it home from the edge of the six-yard box. It was Bouanga’s first MLS goal in more than two months, though he would score another in the second half and Mavinga was involved in that one too.
Eric Smith hadn’t even finished announcing Bouanga’s first score over the stadium’s PA system before Billy Sharp tied the game for the Galaxy, taking a heel pass from Diego Fagúndez as he dashed into the box, then beating Crepeau cleanly for his third goal in five MLS games.
Ryan Hollingshead, sidelined last week with a lower-body injury, snapped the tie in the 33rd minute on a left-footed shot from just outside the box. The goal was his 10th in the last two seasons, most among MLS defenders.
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The Galaxy evened the score again 14 minutes into the second half on a Yoshida header from the edge of the six-yard box. Fagúndez started that play too, sending a cross into the box for Tyler Boyd, who headed it on to Yoshida for the score, his first in MLS.
Mavinga then gave that back. After beating LAFC’s Stipe Biuk to a long Hollingshead through ball, he tried to nudge it back to Bond but his pass was lazy and didn’t account for Bouanga, who was sprinting up the center of the field. Bond saw the onrushing LAFC forward and broke off his line but Bouanga beat him to the ball, then rounded the keeper for the easy finish.
Timothy Tillman closed out the scoring with his third goal of the season in the 84th minute. The four goals matched the most by LAFC in an MLS game in 13 months and the most against the Galaxy since the MLS Is Back tournament in 2020. It also matched the most the Galaxy have allowed in a game this season.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.