El Tráfico brings playoff pressure: LAFC, LA Galaxy “know what’s at stake”

Riqui Puig dribbling El Trafico

For the fourth time in 2023 across all competitions, El Tráfico awaits Saturday night when LAFC host LA Galaxy for a crucial Western Conference clash (10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

The rivalry implications carry plenty of weight, but so do the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs-related pressures that shape every matchup this time of year.

LAFC approach

For LAFC, that manifests as looking to snap a three-game losing skid where they’re in danger of falling into a Wild Card spot – or, with a win, could inch closer to home-field advantage in the postseason. That’s how tight the margins are for the defending MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield winners, who sit third in the Western Conference.

“Everyone knows what’s at stake here and the common goal is we want to win, especially at home, especially in front of our fans,” LAFC center back Aaron Long emphasized before entering BMO Stadium.

Added Dénis Bouanga, the Black & Gold’s leading scorer: “We need to get back on the right track. Yes, we have to win the game on Saturday to keep the momentum.”

Head coach Steve Cherundolo said he has “all the confidence” in his players to course-correct, and it’s “only a matter of time” before LAFC start accumulating points. That’s both rooted in their game model that often creates chances in abundance, as well as the quality of their roster.

Galaxy momentum

But the Galaxy have plenty on the line as well and have found the upper hand in El Tráfico this season by winning two of three matches – most recently a 2-1 thriller at the Rose Bowl that occurred before an MLS single-game attendance record of 82,110 fans. Even more, LA have lost just once since late May (5W-1L-6D) and continue to grind out results.

“We’ve been in a good way,” said LA head coach and sporting director Greg Vanney. “We need to make sure we stay good at the things that we’re good at, [that] we are responsible with the ball because they’re such a good transition team. And then we have to take our opportunities when we create them because they’re not typically a team that gives up a lot of chances, and we haven’t been super efficient in the final action. Those are things that we have to tighten up if we’re going to get a good result on the road.”

Through one lens, LA have little margin for error against their rival – they sit 13th (second-from-last) in the West and need to make up ground. But the other viewpoint is the gap’s only four points between them and FC Dallas (ninth place) entering Matchday 32, and the club has games in hand on most teams above them.

Split the difference, add in some rivalry juices and the scene is further set.

“With three points and a win we would be closer to a playoff spot, and it’s a big game for us,” said LA midfielder Riqui Puig. “The whole team knows that.”

Added LA winger Tyler Boyd: "Regardless of the points it’s super important. It’s for the bragging rights and the LA rivalry is huge."

Emotions rise

Since their last clash on July 4th, both teams have worked to integrate summertime signings. LAFC’s newcomers include winger Cristian Olivera, striker Mario González and midfielder Filip Krastev. Meanwhile, LA navigated transfer sanctions to acquire center back Maya Yoshida, striker Billy Sharp, midfielder Diego Fagundez and more via various mechanisms.

While some new faces will encounter El Tráfico, the intensity shouldn’t diminish.

“For any derby game around the world, both teams find a way to make it very competitive and close,” said Cherundolo. “That’s no matter what is going on outside of each world in the respective seasons or different competitions. I’m 100% sure both teams will show up to play and there will be a good fight as always."

“A lot of time in these games it’s about energy, it’s about emotion, it’s about winning the duels, it’s about being first to second balls,” said Vanney. “We know what they live for and what they look for. … I think a lot of this is about who executes on the day."