El Trafico time! LA Galaxy win books playoff showdown at LAFC

1015 El Traffico sider

Buckle up, it’s El Trafico time.

One of the league’s most intense rivalries will be played out in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs for only the second time, when Supporters’ Shield-winning LAFC host the LA Galaxy in the Western Conference Semifinals Thursday evening at Banc of California Stadium (10 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes).

The marquee matchup was secured when the Galaxy defeated Nashville SC, 1-0, in Round One Saturday afternoon at Dignity Health Sports Park, riding a rare Julian Araujo goal to the club’s first playoff win since 2019. That year, LA defeated Minnesota United FC in Round One before falling to LAFC, 5-3, in an epic Conference Semifinal, which saw Carlos Vela score a brace and outduel Zlatan Ibrahimovic in what proved to be the Swedish superstar’s final MLS game.

“We're going to be in the same mindset, in the same mentality,” Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez told Susannah Collins on the field Saturday. “We’re going to plan for the most difficult game, like we planned this one against Nashville. We're going to plan our game, try to go over there and win to get through.”

This is the clubs' fourth meeting this season across all competitions, with LA winning the first two encounters and LAFC earning a measure of revenge via a 3-2 regular-season victory at Banc of California Stadium on July 8.

That was the last time the rivals met. While the clubs' Mexican superstars – Galaxy talisman Chicharito and LAFC forward Vela – remain front and center, there’s been significant changes for both ahead of El Trafico's 17th edition.

“El Trafico’s gonna be a good one for both teams. We all know what it means,” Araujo said. “Our fans know what it means, their fans, they know what it means. And we're going to try to go over there, it's gonna be tough to go to their stadium. But we have our fans, we have ourselves, we're gonna have each other's back, go out there and play our game, not really listen to anything outside and we're gonna stay focused, enjoy today and start preparing tomorrow for them.”

Not playing that July night for LAFC were two of their biggest midseason additions – Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini, who both just arrived in Los Angeles. The Galaxy also look vastly different, with incoming transfers Riqui Puig (Barcelona) and Gaston Brugman (Parma) solidifying the midfield and helping Chicharito get hot down the stretch of the regular season.

“We've got a few new additions. We play in a slightly different way. And we found some momentum that we maybe didn't have at the start of the season,” said Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Bond. “And they've added a few additions which have been interesting and they've had to adapt to kind of fit that in, and it's very much two different teams than at the start of the season.”

While LAFC have already celebrated a second Supporters’ Shield in their brief history, they've not played since a 1-0 home defeat to Nashville SC on Decision Day, prompting a 10-day layoff with a Round One bye.

Conversely, a new-look Galaxy team that entered the postseason without much playoff experience got 90 minutes of it in an intense one-goal win over Nashville on Saturday.

“We've kind of got this one under our belt. We've experienced it. And hopefully that will work in our favor,” Bond said. “We know that whenever the two teams play each other, either our place or their place, the atmospheres are always good. We've always been really good about bringing away fans to the stadium there, which kind of adds another level to it. I think the atmosphere is gonna be amazing obviously, but we have to kind of just focus on our game.”

That win gave the MLS neutral fans, and of course supporters of both Los Angeles clubs, exactly what they wanted. And it’s an atmosphere Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney is looking forward to.

Vanney had a similar experience in 2016 as Toronto FC's head coach, when the Reds rallied to defeat CF Montréal, 7-5, on aggregate in the Eastern Conference Final – one of the most memorable Canadian Classique chapters. Now, of course, the playoffs have a single-elimination format compared to two-legged series.

“It was a huge rivalry there in the playoffs and the emotion that gets behind a game like that is going to be now, I think, exponentially greater now that it's inside of the US, which is where the majority of the teams are and the fan bases are and the proximity of these two teams is miles away,” Vanney said. “It should be exciting, interesting and I'm sure the league and those around are over the moon that this has come to where it is.”