LAFC vs. LA Galaxy: Which El Tráfico rival carries more pressure?


The LA Galaxy are soaring before the first El Tráfico of 2024, looking to extend their six-game unbeaten run to start the season when visiting crosstown rival LAFC on Saturday evening (7:30 pm ET | Apple TV - Free, FOX).

So, what's fueled excitement and momentum as they sit atop the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield tables with 12 points (3W-0L-3D record)?

It’s how tactical intentions flourish with the right personnel – particularly a rejuvenated attack featuring Riqui Puig as the No. 10, Dejan Joveljic at striker, and newcomers Joseph Paintsil and Gabriel Pec on the wings.

“With the eye test, the way they're balancing each other out, the way they go about their business in the final third, they've scored more goals than anyone through six games of the regular season, they're creating goals, there's a real different diversity to them now,” Taylor Twellman said on This is MLS.

“They're going to play the way they want to play and that's dominating the ball, keeping possession, but now they can play in transition, now they can play off of Riqui Puig and Joveljic is going to be the finisher finishing off simple plays in front of goal. I think the way they're diverse, I just like the way they go about their business. … They're balanced in different ways than in years past.”

That makes the Galaxy “absolutely” the most exciting team in Los Angeles right now, Twellman said. But it all could change quickly if LAFC, as is widely reported, acquire French national team and AC Milan striker Olivier Giroud this summer. Then, reigning Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga has a true No. 9 to play off.

“Bouanga's got too much on his shoulders,” Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “The man can score from all different areas of the field, left foot, right foot. But he needs someone to take the attention off the rest of the center backs. Right now he's playing with a target on his back for what he's done last season and what we know he's capable of.

“When you look at LAFC, I'm not seeing a team playing well. I'm seeing a team that's very one-dimensional. So I think Giroud coming in, finding those center backs, making them focus on something else, would free up Denis Bouanga and we'll start to see a bit more fluidity in the attack.”

LAFC are still finding their way after replacing several starters this winter, taking just seven points heading into Matchday 8 (2W-3L-1D record). Regardless, Mo Edu said there’s real pressure on Steve Cherundolos's squad to earn a statement result at BMO Stadium.

“It's a derby match, there's passion, you're the home team in this matchup as well,” Edu said. “There's just been confusion as to who this LAFC team is. So I think the pressure really lies on them and Galaxy will be looking to maintain this unbeaten streak."

All that said, the Galaxy aren’t without flaws. Twellman pointed to set pieces as a potential Achilles' heel for Greg Vanney’s team.

“They've survived the gauntlet of an early-season schedule,” Twellman said. “That is the biggest surprise for me. But if they go out Saturday and lose 3-1 against LAFC, we're going to be on this show having a different conversation of ‘Are they a mirage?’

“I think they've got to have a strong performance and not lose and give up goals in the manner by which they've been giving up goals this year.”

Now the Galaxy, Wright-Phillips said, have a new role in El Tráfico. It comes after watching LAFC make back-to-back MLS Cups in 2022 and 2023.

"How many times have we seen the Galaxy go in as underdogs over the last few years? I don't care how exciting they are. They're playing in a derby this weekend and when they're going in as favorites, how do they play that game? They're normally the underdog," Wright-Phillips said.

"I think they've been able to come in under the radar and play how they want, let the game come to them. They can't now."