If Riqui Puig is the LA Galaxy’s best hope to help turn around a dismal season, he certainly put on a great display in their biggest game of the year.

The Spanish midfielder had a goal and an assist as the Galaxy defeated Los Angeles Football Club 2-1 on Tuesday night before an MLS-record crowd of 82,110 at the Rose Bowl.

The 18th edition of the LA rivalry known as El Tráfico broke the previous mark of 74,479, set last year when Charlotte FC played its first home game against the Galaxy. It was originally scheduled for 25 February as the showcase game on the first day of the MLS regular season, but it got postponed due to heavy rain and wind in Southern California.

“The atmosphere was amazing. We came here and won. It was a spectacular match,” Puig said through an interpreter. “I’m a player who likes to play these big games with a lot of pressure and fans.”

The Galaxy called the Rose Bowl home from 1996 through 2002, until they moved into their own stadium. Coach Greg Vanney was a player during the first six seasons and acknowledged he felt a rush of memories as the bus pulled in before the game.

“For me personally, to be back here and see it full shows how far the league has come. It was an incredible atmosphere,” he said.

Puig, who is used to playing big games after spending four seasons with Barcelona, assisted on Tyler Boyd’s goal in the 26th minute and then had the go-ahead score in the 73rd minute for the Galaxy, who are unbeaten in their last six matches with two wins and four ties.

It was only Puig’s second goal of the season. He will need to provide more highlights like Tuesday’s performance if the Galaxy are going to rebound from an awful start and make the playoffs. Puig is considered the Galaxy’s top scoring threat after Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez had season-ending knee surgery on 23 June.

An MLS-record crowd of 82,110 watched the LA Galaxy win 2-1 over LAFC at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday night.
An MLS-record crowd of 82,110 watched the LA Galaxy win 2-1 over LAFC at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday night. Photograph: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

“Given the moment and the stadium and amount of people, he was outstanding. He plays at a different speed,” Vanney said.

LAFC’s goal came from Ilie Sanchez in the 57th minute. The defending MLS Cup champions have dropped three straight and five of seven.

LAFC are tied with Seattle for second place in the Western Conference and are three points behind surprising St Louis FC.

“It was a great atmosphere all around. We’re disappointed we couldn’t get a win, but when you are chasing the game it is difficult,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said.

Douglas Costa was near midfield when he sent a pass up the left side, where Boyd chased it downfield. Boyd then delivered a centering pass as Puig outran LAFC midfielder Timothy Tillman and put it past goalkeeper John McCarthy for his first goal in 12 games. His previous one came on 22 April against Austin.

LAFC evened it 1-1 off a set piece. Tillman delivered a corner kick toward the near post and Sanchez put a perfect header past Galaxy goalie Jonathan Klinsmann, who came in at halftime after Jonathan Bond injured his hamstring.

The Galaxy struck first in the 26th minute when Boyd took a pass from Puig, spun away from Erik Duenas near the left side of the box and blasted a right-footer into the top right corner.

LAFC appeared to tie it in the 84th minute, but Carlos Vela was called offside.

“This game felt like it should, a real game that matters to the 82,000 here and in LA. At times it was not the best football, but it was an exciting and passionate match,” Cherundolo said.

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