CARSON, Calif. -- The third edition of "El Trafico" between the LA Galaxy and LAFC ended in a 1-1 draw Friday night, with Carlos Vela's second-half penalty canceling out Zlatan Ibrahimovic's first-half opener. Here are three thoughts from the match.
1. This time, it's LAFC with the fightback
The first two editions of "El Trafico" followed much the same script. On both occasions LAFC raced out to multigoal leads, only for the Galaxy to stage dramatic comebacks on their way to a win and draw.
Friday's match followed a much different script. This time it was the Galaxy that claimed an early lead only to see LAFC fight back to pull level. Such was the superiority of the visitors in the end that the Galaxy will count themselves lucky to have escaped with a draw.
One component that hasn't changed is Ibrahimovic's ability to torment LAFC. Granted, for Ibrahimovic, replicating his two-goal debut against the Black and Gold from March is nigh impossible in terms of drama, but the Swede was once again effective on this night, although he'll no doubt feel he should have had more than one goal.
Ibrahimovic scored the Galaxy's opener in the 15th minute, chesting down Ola Kamara's chipped delivery and stabbing the ball over the line. At first it looked as if LAFC defender Danilo Silva had cleared the ball off the line, but VAR came to Ibrahimovic's rescue, and after getting a look at the replay, referee Jair Marrufo awarded the goal.
The tally was Ibrahimovic's 499th of his professional career when combining his goals for both club and country, and he had several good chances to grab No. 500. He hit the post in the 20th minute after good work from Sebastian Lletget, and two other clear looks at goal only to fire straight at LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller.
The failure to add a second proved costly for the Galaxy. The home side was dominant up until the half-hour mark, but LAFC's midfield finally began to make some headway, and carried the play for much of the match.
Vela began to find some room to maneuver along with Diego Rossi and newly acquired forward Christian Ramirez. Rossi came closest to finding a first-half equalizer, firing just wide of the net after being slipped in by Vela.
LAFC continued to have the upper hand as the second half began, and equalized in the 51st minute thanks to a gift from Galaxy midfielder Perry Kitchen. Vela broke down the left side of the box with a bit of space, and Kitchen, intent on cutting down a potential cross, went to ground and ended up clipping Vela resulting in a penalty. The Mexico international converted the ensuing spot kick with a cool finish and LAFC was level.
The match became more open as the second-half minutes ticked by. Benny Feilhaber had a glorious chance to put the visitors ahead in the 72nd minute when he was put clean through on goal, but Galaxy keeper David Bingham came up with a massive play, touching the ball away as Feilhaber attempted to round him.
It was LAFC that finished the match the stronger, with substitute Latif Blessing and Rossi both going close, but the Galaxy hung on and the match finished level.
2. Galaxy defense shows improvement but remains its own worst enemy
The Galaxy's performances have been maddeningly inconsistent this season, and the team's defense has been largely to blame. Heading into the night's action, the team's 47 goals conceded were the fifth worst in the league.
On this night, there were signs that the Galaxy had put aside its defensive woes. The three-man backline of Rolf Feltscher, Jorgen Skjelvik and David Romney looked fairly composed and mistake-free, and made the plays they needed to make to keep LAFC in check.
Yet it seems as if at least once per game -- if not more -- the Galaxy end up making a backbreaking blunder that undoes much of their hard work. So it proved on this night thanks to Kitchen's error. There was simply no reason for the Galaxy midfielder to go to ground given Vela's position near the end line. But go to ground he did and the Galaxy were left to try and regain control of the rest of the match, which they never really succeeded in accomplishing.
Such defensive frailties could be the Galaxy's undoing. LA has played two, and in some cases three more games than their conference rivals in terms of reaching the playoffs. With the Seattle Sounders in the midst of their now annual second-half revival, the Galaxy's postseason prospects look precarious indeed.
3. LAFC continues to grind
When a 10-4-4 start was followed by a five-game winless streak, it looked as if LAFC was beginning to run out of gas. But Bob Bradley's side has now taken seven points from its past three matches and remains well positioned to reach the postseason.
This is the case even as Bradley persists with his odd midfield construction that relies on clever movement to overcome the lack of a pure ball-winner. But to the surprise of no one, the work ethic of the squad -- from designated player Vela on down -- looks decidedly Bradley-esque, and that will no doubt serve it well down the stretch.
If there is one concern, it is the depth in the center of defense. That has been an issue much of the year, but the acquisition of Danilo Silva seemed to solve that. But hamstring tightness forced the Brazilian out of the match in the 27th minute, and with Laurent Ciman being given the night off, Dejan Jakovic was forced into action.
The Canadian performed decently enough, but the fact that Ciman wasn't even in the 18 for the match was an eyebrow-raiser. But ESPN television analyst Taylor Twellman later revealed it was because Ciman has been distracted by transfer talk, and that is a situation that will need to be monitored going forward.
In the meantime, Bradley and his charges are left to continue their impressive debut season.