Saturday’s El Tráfico matchup between the Galaxy and LAFC lost most of its luster about an hour before kickoff when Carlos Vela was scratched, robbing it of an anticipated showdown between Vela and World Cup teammate Javier “Chicharito” Hernández.
Ignored in all the pregame hype was another member of that Mexican national team, Galaxy captain Jonathan dos Santos. But he took on a starring role in Vela’s absence, banging home the deciding goal in the 79th minute to give the Galaxy a 2-1 win before a crowd limited to 7,193 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Diego Rossi, last year’s MLS scoring leader, accounted for the LAFC score in the 62nd minute.
Hernández, who scored the Galaxy’s first goal, set up the second. Hemmed in near the goal line, he slipped a pass through the legs of LAFC defender Tristan Blackmon toward a vacant area in the center of the penalty area. Galaxy midfielder Efrain Alvarez started toward the loose ball but backed off when he saw Dos Santos sprinting to unleash a strong right-footed shot.
When the ball hit the back of the net, Dos Santos, whose last goal came 22 months ago, ripped his shirt off and sprinted toward the grandstands, where he was welcomed by fans and engulfed by teammates.
The assist was the first in MLS for Hernández, while his goal, in the 11th minute, was his MLS-leading sixth of the season, tripling his total output from his disappointing debut season last year.
The hard work on the latest score was done by defender Derrick Williams, who took the ball away from José Cifuentes with a brilliant slide tackle deep in the LAFC end. The ball deflected to the edge of the penalty area for Hernández, who settled it on his left foot and then drove a hard shot with his right foot off goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega and into side netting at the far post.
On the other end, Galaxy keeper Jonathan Bond continued to save both opposing shots and his team’s back line, making four stops to run his league-leading total to 20 in four games.
Rossi cost him a shot at his first MLS shutout in the 62nd minute, getting his first goal of this season off a nifty pass from Corey Baird.
The play started with Rossi, pinned to the top of the box, slipping the ball back to Latif Blessing, then cutting into the penalty area. Blessing sent a return pass forward to Baird, who, with his back to the goal, stuck out his right leg to deflect the ball into the path of an onrushing Rossi, who beat Bond to the far side for the strong finish.
Baird’s pass, the 13th of the buildup, earned him his first assist of the season, giving him a hand in three of LAFC’s five goals this season. That tie would last just 17 minutes before Hernández set up Dos Santos for the game-winner.
If the Galaxy (3-1-0) are beginning to enjoy a rejuvenated Hernández, LAFC (1-1-2) is starting to get a look at what life might be like without Vela. The first major signing in franchise history, Vela, who came through the Chivas developmental system with Hernández, broke the MLS single-season scoring record in an MVP season in 2019.
But he has started just five regular-season games since, playing only 22 minutes this season because of a quadriceps injury. And the offense has sputtered in his absence, scoring just five times in four games.
Although LAFC has a better league record over the last four seasons, the Galaxy have dominated the series with their neighbors up the freeway, winning three of the last four meetings to lead the regular-season series 5-2-3. Vela played in just one of those last four games.