The Galaxy’s Riqui Puig is fired up after he scored the go-ahead tally in the 73rd minute against LAFC goalkeeper John McCarthy at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday night. The Galaxy won before an MLS-record crowd of 82,110. (Alex Gallardo / For The Times)
The Galaxy returned to their first home Tuesday night, only to find out they don’t own the property anymore.
When the MLS schedule-makers gave the Galaxy a second home date with crosstown rival LAFC this season, the team decided to hold that game at the Rose Bowl, where the Galaxy played during the league’s first six seasons. That paid off handsomely at the gate, with Tuesday’s match and the postgame fireworks show drawing a league-record crowd announced at 82,110.
That appeared to be a healthy undercount.
But giving up the cozy confines of Dignity Health Sports Park for a cavernous college football stadium left the Galaxy playing before a crowd that was evenly split between the two Southern California rivals, though they gave their supporters far more to cheer about, extending their unbeaten streak in MLS play to six games with a 2-1 victory.
Tyler Boyd and Riqui Puig each had a goal and an assist for the Galaxy, with Puig setting up Boyd midway through the first half and Boyd returning the favor midway through the second. Ilie Sánchez accounted for LAFC’s only goal in the 57th minute.
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The result dropped LAFC (9-6-5) to third in the 14-team Western Conference table, while the Galaxy (4-9-7) remain one spot out of the cellar.
So maybe you can go home again after all. Galaxy coach Greg Vanney, who made his MLS debut at the Rose Bowl playing for the Galaxy in their first season, certainly felt that way.
“For me, personally, to be back in the Rose Bowl, to take a second and realize just how far the league has come and the level of the two teams — the competition, the quality of the players on the field, all that — it was just incredible,” he said.
And with the Galaxy fighting to get back into the playoff race, getting the full three points for just the second time in nearly two months — against their rivals, no less — was incredible as well.
“Tonight, against the champs, we won the game,” Vanney said. “With results come confidence.”
Tuesday’s game originally was scheduled to be played in Pasadena in February. But torrential rains washed out the match, pushing it back to July 4.
And a lot has happened in the last 4½ months.
LAFC, the reigning league champion, has remained near the top of the table while becoming the second MLS team — after the Galaxy in 2000 — to play in two CONCACAF club championship finals. The Galaxy, meanwhile, tabbed as playoff contenders in the preseason, weathered a months-long fan boycott and season-ending injuries to two starters.
The Galaxy once ruled both Southern California and the MLS; now they don’t even rule Pasadena. The franchise might have been born there, but LAFC now has a large and active supporters’ group in the city. Same goes for the South Bay, the Galaxy’s home area since 2003, which is now an LAFC bastion as well.
In fact, since LAFC entered MLS in 2018, the Galaxy have ceded territory faster than the Russian army. Once the league’s top draw, the Galaxy are averaging smaller crowds than LAFC despite playing in a bigger stadium.
Tuesday’s sellout, for what counted as a Galaxy home game, will skew those numbers. But with half the crowd dressed in the black-and-gold shirts of the visitors, the game was even in the stands even as the Galaxy held a clear edge on the field.
Galaxy defender Calegari, right, looks to pass the ball away from LAFC forward Denis Bouanga during the first half. (Alex Gallardo / For The Times)
“It was a great atmosphere all around. So it was successful,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said. “It felt like a playoff game.”
LAFC, playing for the ninth time in 35 days, had the best of the early going, but it had nothing to show for it.
That allowed Boyd, whose parents were visiting from New Zealand, to put the Galaxy in front in the 26th minute, spinning away from LAFC defender Erik Dueñas to create space at the top of the box, then driving a right-footed shot into the side netting at the far post for his third goal of the season.
The goal marked the sixth time the Galaxy have scored first this season, which was a good omen because they lost just one of the previous five matches.
It also marked the sixth time in the last seven games that LAFC has conceded first; it lost four of the previous six.
But with the Galaxy attackers having little trouble slicing through the midfield, LAFC was fortunate to keep the deficit to just a goal.
The start of the second half was a different story. Seconds after making a splendid save, Galaxy keeper Jonathan Klinsmann, who came on for injured starter Jonathan Bond at the half, saw Sánchez head a Timothy Tillman corner in off his gloved hands to tie the score.
It wouldn’t stay that way long, however, with Puig, who played before a big crowd at the Rose Bowl with Barcelona in the summer of 2018, racing up the center of LAFC’s defense and sliding on to a perfectly placed Boyd cross at the end of a breakaway in the 73rd minute to score the game-winner.
“He just plays at a different speed,” Vanney said of Puig. “He shifts and changes directions and accelerates through the lines. Ricky was outstanding tonight, for sure.”
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LAFC had one last chance to even the score in stoppage time, but when Nathan Ordaz fanned on a shot off a Denil Maldonado header, Klinsmann flopped on the loose ball just in front of the goal line.
That left Boyd to reflect on both the win and the crowd, neither of which might have come if the game had been played in February as scheduled.
“I guess the rain happened for a reason,” he said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.