CARSON, Calif. – LAFC are running roughshod over the rest of Major League Soccer this season, bullying foes in romp after romp, and are on target to set records for wins, points, goals scored and goal differential. They’ve already clinched a playoff spot and are taking aim at the Supporters' Shield before their MLS Cup quest begins.
Bob Bradley's side plays with a verve rarely seen in the league's 23-plus campaigns – one that’s defined by Carlos Vela's dominance – and look all but unstoppable, more so after Wednesday night's thrashing (again) of the San Jose Earthquakes.
Now comes the fifth El Trafico derby showdown with the LA Galaxy, and the five-time MLS Cup champions believe they have the recipe for success Sunday (10:30 pm ET | FS1, TS1) against their crosstown rivals. They're one of three MLS teams that LAFC have never beaten, with New York City FC and the Chicago Fire the others.
“That was the one time when, watching LAFC, that they looked a little but shellshocked, and that was against us,” veteran midfielder Chris Pontius said ahead of their Heineken Rivalry Week clash. “[It was about] the pressure that we put on them, and we didn't allow them any space on the ball. We're in their face the entire game.
“You can't go in there and sit. If you go in there and sit, they've got players that can break you down. I think we'll go in there and play the same way that we played them [on July 19].”
The tally that evening was 3-2, sparked by a Zlatan Ibrahimovic hat trick. LA is 2-0-2 in the series after rallying in Ibrahimovic's magical debut, with the rivalry sparking the best in Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s team.
“We just got to literally knock them off their game, be as aggressive as possible,” midfielder Sebastian Lletget said. “That has seemed to work. And then once we're in the final third, we'll do our thing. We have players that can play. That's the good thing. As soon as we get the ball, we know what to do.”
LA has been inconsistent most of the season, but also boasts the pieces to cause damage. Ibrahimovic has 20 goals this season and is “getting better with [newcomer Cristian] Pavon” by his side, Schelotto proclaimed. Pavon, acquired on loan from Boca Juniors just before the summer transfer window closed, has added a dimension to the attack.
The Galaxy don't necessarily believe beating LAFC is all about taking their strengths away. Stopping Vela, who has 26 goals and 15 assists in 25 outings, is important, but that's not their focus.
“We know he's a pretty good level, but we need to pay attention to their team, how LAFC plays, not just how [Vela] is playing,” Schelotto said. “We know they have a really good player in front like Vela, like [Diego] Rossi. [Adama] Diomande is very strong, very fast. They have a lot of [good players], and I know Vela is wonderful since he arrived to MLS.”
Diego Polenta did a nice job in the last meeting against Vela, though the Mexican star nonetheless tallied twice, including one strike from the penalty spot.
More than anything, the Galaxy can't afford to provide LAFC with any breathing room. They're currently third in the Western Conference standings, but are only two games removed from a three-match losing streak.
“I think we have to keep cool,” Lletget said. “I think the game itself will bring something out of us, as it has done in past times, and we have always risen to the occasion. Obviously, they're in a good place in the league, but we need this one more than anything.
“Of course, it's exciting for our fan base, exciting for us, but we want to get this one because it's going to put us in a good position [for a playoff berth] as well. That's, I think, a big motive for us."