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MLS playoffs: Carlos Vela leads LAFC past Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Galaxy

By
Alex Butler
Thursday might have been Los Angeles Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimovic's final Major League Soccer game as the Swedish forward will contemplate his playing future this offseason. Photo by Paul Buck/EPA-EFE
Thursday might have been Los Angeles Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimovic's final Major League Soccer game as the Swedish forward will contemplate his playing future this offseason. Photo by Paul Buck/EPA-EFE

Oct. 25 (UPI) -- Carlos Vela scored twice in the first half to lead LAFC past the rival Los Angeles Galaxy and soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the MLS Cup playoffs.

Vela netted goals in the 16th and 40th minutes of the 5-3 win Thursday at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. Ibrahimovic scored in the 55th minute of the Western Conference semifinal clash. Adama Diomonde scored twice in the second half for LAFC.

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LAFC battles the Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference final at 10 p.m. EDT Tuesday in Los Angeles.

"In the playoffs it's not a matter of what team you are playing against," Vela told reporters. "We need to win two more games. We have to prepare our team to be ready and be focussed on our target."

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Ibrahimovic finished second to Vela with 30 goals this season. Vela set the MLS record for goals in a single season with 34 scores for LAFC.

"I think we should be sad and disappointed," Ibrahimovic said. "Sad because we aren't going through [to next round]. Disappointed because we had mistakes where we let them punish us in a way we had to come back from. It's not easy to play like that."

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Diego Rossi found Vela for the first goal of Thursday's semifinal by slipping a pass to his left while in the Galaxy box. Vela made a quick move on a defender before lacing a shot into the right side of the net, beating Galaxy keeper David Bingham. The MLS MVP frontrunner doubled the LAFC lead just before the half.

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Brian Rodriguez completed a give-and-go passing sequence outside the Galaxy box before slipping the ball to Vela on his right during that score. Vela tapped the ball in from point-blank range for the 2-0 lead.

Ibrahimovic helped the Galaxy cut the deficit in half by finding Cristian Pavon wide open in the 41st minute. The Galaxy striker fought for a possession about 30 yards from the LAFC net at the start of that sequence. He then turned and fired a pass to Pavon inside the box. Pavon used his first touch to beat LAFC keeper Tyler Miller with a shot to the far post.

Ibrahimovic netted an equalizer 14 minutes later. The Galaxy striker stole the ball and ran into the left side of the box during that possession. He then hit a shot off of Miller and into the net, tying the score at 2-2.

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"It's hard to recover from that, but we showed a lot of personality," Vela said. "We said, 'We have to fight. This is the moment.' In the end, it's just a game. In the playoffs we have to beat every team. The response from our team was really nice."

Rossi snatched the lead back for LAFC in the 66th minute. Vela dribbled around defenders before spotting his teammate in the left side of the box. Rossi collected the Vela feed before sniping a left-footed shot by Bingham for the 3-2 advantage.

Rossi returned to assist a Diomande goal in the 68th minute. He collected a pass and raced down the left flank during that exchange. Rossi then dribbled into the box and sent a cross toward the far post, finding Diomande for a header into an open net.

Rolf Feltscher scored the Galaxy's third goal in the 77th minute. The 73rd minute substitute headed in a Roman Alessandrini free kick during that score, beating Miller at the near post.

Diomande scored the final goal in the 80th minute. LAFC fullback Eddie Segura Segura slapped a pass to Diomande near midfield during that sequence. Diomande then dribbled between defenders and raced into the box before chipping Bingham for the score.

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"At some moment, against your biggest rival, when everything is at stake, to see these guys respond at 2-2 ... man that was awesome," LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. "That's such a step for this group."

Seattle beat Real Salt Lake 2-0 Wednesday to advance to the Western Conference final. Toronto FC and Atlanta United face off in the Eastern Conference final at 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Ibrahimovic did not say if he would return to MLS next season following the loss.

"What happens next year, I don't know," Ibrahimovic said. "If I stay, I think for MLS it's good because the whole world would watch it. If I don't stay, nobody will remember what the MLS is."

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