ST. PAUL, Minn. — The latest edition of "El Trafico" will take place in the MLS playoffs, with the pair of powerhouse Los Angeles teams set to stage their biggest matchup yet.
Sebastian Lletget and Jonathan dos Santos scored four minutes apart midway through the second half, leading the Los Angeles Galaxy to a 2-1 victory over Minnesota in the first round of the MLS playoffs Sunday night to spoil United's post-season debut.
Jan Gregus gave the Loons life with his goal in the 87th minute, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy hung on to advance to face top seed Los Angeles FC on Thursday in the Western Conference semifinals and set up another "El Trafico" derby between the Southern California rivals.
"I think everybody is excited for this game," Ibrahimovic said. "I think everybody wanted this game.
The Galaxy are 2-0-3 against LAFC, which joined MLS in 2018 and set the league record this year with 72 points by going 21-4-9 in the regular season.
"It'll be a special day," Lletget said.
In front of a frenzied crowd that filled up Allianz Field, the new-in-2019 stadium for the third-year MLS franchise, Minnesota had the fans roaring and groaning throughout the first half while largely owning the attack. Robin Lod had three prime chances, including a one-timer from the middle he sent sailing over the net.
All those missed scoring opportunities came back to haunt the Loons, when Ibrahimovic's close-range shot was blocked by Michael Boxall, and Lletget knocked in the rebound in the 71st minute. Then in the 75th minute, dos Santos let one fly for the lower right corner that was out of a diving goalkeeper Vito Mannone's reach. The 6-foot-5 Ibrahimovic leaped to grab the crossbar and briefly swung back and forth to celebrate what turned out to be the winning goal.
The fourth-seeded Loons were the only home team to lose in the first round. The five-time MLS champion Galaxy, returning to the playoffs after a two-year absence, were a tough draw despite their up-and-down regular season.
"This game was the most difficult game we played this season," Ibrahimovic said. "They were good. They were confident. You could see that in their game."
The Loons started without under-the-weather leading scorer Darwin Quintero, one of their three designated players whose costs can exceed the salary cap. The 32-year-old midfielder subbed in early in the second half for a spark, but the home team couldn't quite muster enough.
"We were the better team for large periods of the game," Minnesota coach Adrian Heath said. "We had the best chances all evening, and I can't remember Vito having to do anything until, maybe, the goal."