The Galaxy returned to their first home Tuesday night, only to find they no longer owned the property.
When MLS schedulers conceded the Galaxy a second home game at crosstown rivals LAFC this season, the team decided to play that game at the Rose Bowl, where the Galaxy played for the league’s first six seasons. That clearly paid off at goal, because the game on Tuesday and the fireworks after the game attracted a league record with 82,110 spectators.
That seemed like a healthy undercount.
But after abandoning the cozy premises of Dignity Health Sports Park in favor of a cavernous college football stadium, the Galaxy played to a crowd composed equally of the two Southern California rivals, though they gave their supporters much more reason to cheer gave and extended their unbeaten run to five games in MLS with a 2-1 win.
Tyler Boyd and Riqui Puig each had a goal and an assist for the Galaxy, with Puig assisting Boyd midway through the first half and Boyd retaliating midway through the second half. Ilie Sánchez scored LAFC’s only goal in the 57th minute. Carlos Vela seemed to equalize in the 84th minute, but the goal was nullified for offside.
The result dropped LAFC (9-6-5) to third place in the 14-team Western Conference standings, while Galaxy (4-9-7) stayed a spot outside the basement.
Maybe you can go home again.
Tuesday’s game was originally scheduled to be played in Pasadena in February. The bitter neighborhood derby brought AppleTV, the new broadcast partner of the league, both a big duel and a large audience at the start of the first season. But torrential rain washed out the game and pushed it back to July 4th.
A lot has happened in the last 4 1/2 months.
LAFC, the reigning league champions, remained at the top of the table and became the second MLS team, after Galaxy in 2000, to take part in two CONCACAF club championship finals. Meanwhile, The Galaxy, tipped as a playoff contender last season, survived a month-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 may have originated there, but LAFC now has a large and active fan base in the city. Ditto for South Bay, home of the Galaxy since 2003, which is also an LAFC bastion today.
In fact, since LAFC joined the MLS in 2018, the Galaxy has ceded territory faster than the Russian army. The Galaxy, once the league’s top draw, averages fewer crowds than LAFC despite playing in a larger stadium.
Tuesday’s sell-off, considered Galaxy’s home game, will skew those numbers. But with half the crowd wearing the visitors’ black-and-gold shirts, the game in the stands was evenly balanced despite Galaxy having an advantage on the pitch.
LAFC, himself plagued by injuries and playing for the ninth time in 35 days, launched a defensive line consisting of 38-year-old Italian legend Giorgio Chiellini and teenager Erik Dueñas, who was overwhelmed at times. The Galaxy, meanwhile, had to resort to their own makeshift defense and played full-back Kelvin Leerdam in the centre. They suffered another blow at half-time when first-choice goalkeeper Jonathan Bond was substituted for Jonathan Klinsmann after picking up a left thigh injury late in the first half.
LAFC made the best impression in the early stages when Denis Bouanga fired in a long Vela cross straight at goal in the 16th minute, but Bond fired the ball at goal with both hands. Ten minutes later, Boyd put the Galaxy ahead, turned away from Dueñas to create space at the top of the box and then fired a right footed shot into the side netting at the far post for his third goal of the season.
Puig, one of the few players on either side to play in the Rose Bowl, got the assist, his fifth goal of the season. Puig played in Pasadena in the summer of 2018 while on tour with FC Barcelona.
The goal marked the sixth time the Galaxy have opened the scoring this season, which bodes well as they only lost one of the previous five goals. It was also the sixth time in the last seven games that LAFC conceded first; it lost four of the previous six. But with the Galaxy attackers having little trouble breaking through midfield, LAFC were fortunate to narrow the gap to just one goal.
The start of the second half was a different story. Seconds after Klinsmann brilliantly saved a Vela free-kick deflected by Bouanga, Sánchez headed in a Timothy Tillman corner with the keeper’s gloved hands to level the score.
But that wasn’t to last for long as Puig slipped at the end of a breakaway after a perfectly placed Boyd cross in the 73rd minute.
Tuesday’s game was a long-awaited homecoming for Galaxy manager Greg Vanney, who made his MLS debut for the team in the club’s first season at the Rose Bowl. And the win made it even sweeter.
“I don’t remember it being that crowded,” he said, pointing at the crowd, the second largest at a soccer game in the United States since 2018. “It’s nice to be back.”