Jul 4, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; LA Galaxy midfielder Riqui Puig (6) celebrates with fans after the game against the LAFC at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
PASADENA, Calif. — Fireworks going off over the Rose Bowl was always going to be a perfect backdrop.
An anticipated match that was originally scheduled to kick off the Major League Soccer season in epic fashion at the Rose Bowl had to be postponed due to terrible weather in Southern California.
What transpired from February to the Fourth of July set the table perfectly for LA Galaxy and LAFC to renew their rivalry in front of a new MLS record of 82,110 fans. And Riqui Puig made sure the spectacle was worthy of the setting as Los Angeles’ original team defeated LAFC 2-1.
On paper it shouldn’t have ever been close — LAFC are the defending MLS Cup champs and Supporters’ Shield winners, while the Galaxy are living life toward the bottom of the standings. But El Trafico always means more, regardless of current form or whatever other factors are surrounding the teams. It was evident the Galaxy were out to set a precedent in what was technically a home game for them, in a stadium the OG teams of the late 1990s actually used to play in. Besides a really good chance by LAFC leading goal scorer Denis Bouanga in the 16th minute, the first 45 minutes belonged to the hosts.
Puig, as is typically the case, was a level above everyone on the field. His wizardry and pace were on full display for all to see, in a game where the Spaniard had family in attendance. In the 26th minute, it paid off as one of his dangerous runs freed up space and he fed Tyler Boyd, who fought off a defender and ripped a banger from the edge of the box to open the scoring.
Galaxy continued dictating the flow and could’ve probably scored another but the lack of finishing that has plagued them all year came back to bite.
Goalkeeper Jonathan Bond had to be subbed out at the break for Jonathan Klinsmann due to injury, and the second half was a completely different tune as LAFC ramped up the pressure and pinned the Galaxy in their own end.
LAFC’s Timothy Tillman delivered a ball near post off a corner and Ilie Sánchez was there to head the equalizer in the 57th minute.
But this night was always going to belong to the Galaxy. It just felt like destiny. And Puig was rewarded for his sensational performance with a goal of his own, sparked by a beautiful cross field ball from Douglas Costa to Boyd, who returned the favor with an assist of his own.
Carlos Vela thought he had leveled the match in the 84th but was slightly offside. The slight roar from the LAFC fans was drowned out by “LA Galaxy” chants growing louder into the night.
Blue and yellow smoke followed and flowed through the Pasadena air.
These games. This rivalry.
LAFC is currently clearly the better team, but Los Angeles belonged to one team and one team only in a historic moment for MLS and soccer in the United States.
Fittingly, it was the LA Galaxy.