Voices: Bradley Wright-Phillips

LAFC vs. LA Galaxy: Why El Tráfico is MLS’s best rivalry

24-seasonpass_talent_weekly_bwp_El Trafico

Around the world, there’s always one derby you immediately identify with a country or league.

In the Premier League, it’s Manchester United vs. Manchester City or Liverpool. For Serie A, it’s AC Milan vs. Inter Milan. Head to LaLiga, it’s Real Madrid vs. Barcelona. Take the Bundesliga, it’s Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Dortmund. Go to Argentina, it’s River Plate vs. Boca Juniors.

Here in Major League Soccer? It’s LAFC vs. LA Galaxy.

Sure, other rivalries have a case. When I was playing, the Hudson River Derby was it because I was right in the thick of New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC. Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers fans would probably like a word. Same with FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew supporters. But even now, I can admit that LAFC-LA Galaxy is the best by far.

Derby fuel

My reasoning is simple: No MLS game delivers more consistently than El Tráfico.

Of the 22 times these rivals have met, there's never been fewer than two goals scored. There’s an average of 4.27 goals per game. We’ve had a 6-2 match, and LAFC have won 5-3 and 3-2 in the playoffs. Just think about that for a second! It’s not normal, but in the best way possible.

Whenever I've tuned into an El Tráfico, whoever is out there, wherever it’s played, I'm on the edge of my seat. It’s bangers, it’s controversy, it’s red cards, it’s end to end. It's two teams that understand these almost aren’t about three points. They truly play the game for the fans.

While I never played an El Tráfico in front of the fans – I played in two of them at LAFC, but it was COVID times – it was intense, it was crazy. There was so much passion and desire on the pitch. Both teams understand the assignment. Every. Single. Time.

That brings me to what’s becoming an annual tradition in MLS: El Tráfico at the Rose Bowl on July 4th. And if last year’s match is any indication, when an MLS-record crowd of 82,210 fans showed up, we’re in for an absolute treat Thursday night (10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

LAFC and LA Galaxy are two of the best teams in MLS, with both challenging for the top spot in the Western Conference. Honestly, I can’t remember a more balanced El Tráfico in terms of form. Normally one team is doing really well and the other is doing just okay or struggling. This year, there’s almost nothing separating them.

Stars deliver

There’s also star power, which makes El Tráficos so iconic. We all remember Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s introduction in 2018, back when this derby started. Or Carlos Vela curling home those beautiful left-footed shots. Chicharito and Diego Rossi have had their say over the years, too.

Now? It’s the Denis Bouanga vs. Riqui Puig show.

Earlier this season, Bouanga missed some chances he should have scored and was a bit unlucky in front of goal. But he was still LAFC's most dangerous player. Now he’s looking like he could repeat as the Golden Boot winner.

Truthfully, it must be terrifying trying to stop Bouanga on the dribble. He can get the ball on the halfway line and most attackers would try to play it off, get into the box. For Bouanga, 10 out of 10 times, he is running at the defender. He's getting a shot off, too. He's relentless. He just needs that one moment to make your life miserable.

With Riqui, he’s almost antagonizing with his celebrations and can wind people up. If I played against him, he would surely annoy me! But in terms of footballing talent, Riqui backs it up. A No. 10 can only dream of having his ball control, passing and understanding of the game, his ability to link the defense to the attack. He gets the ball off a center back and then just drives through the lines while dribbling. He can find a final pass and he's got goals in his locker.

Take last year’s El Tráfico at the Rose Bowl. It was Riqui getting the game-winner with a lung-busting run and finish. You could tell he’s got true passion for the Galaxy. Normally, players like him only want the ball to feet. Riqui running off the ball like that and then making a sliding finish, it says everything you need to know about him.

Time to shine

Whoever gets the headlines Thursday, here’s a truth about El Tráfico: The big players you tune in to watch always step up. They're not disappearing. They meet the moment.

Which brings me back to my original point: If anybody back home in England asked me about the MLS derby to watch, I’d tell them, “Don’t be surprised if El Tráfico reminds you of the Manchester Derby or the North London Derby. The passion is the same. The fans behave the same, the games are as intense.”

I know people back home would think I’m crazy. But I've watched them, I've been to them, I've played in them. They’re similar. The fans are so incredibly into this game where if you've got a heartbeat and you're on the pitch, you're doing anything you can to leave your mark.

So, as you’re planning your July 4th, what better way to end it than with El Tráfico at the Rose Bowl? This is our league at its very best.