LOS ANGELES – On Friday night, LAFC will face off against their Southern California neighbors the LA Galaxy during Heineken Rivalry Week (10:30 pm ET | ESPN – Full TV and streaming info). And when the Black & Gold faithful take the short trip south to StubHub Center in Carson, they won’t just be looking for three points — they’ll also be looking for revenge.
“We’re angry with ourselves that in the first two games we have not been able to see things through,” said coach Bob Bradley after LAFC training Tuesday.
Over the memorable first two "El Trafico" encounters — a 4-3 Galaxy win at StubHub in March and a 2-2 draw at Banc of California Stadium last month — the expansion team looked the better side for about 140 of the 180 minutes played, only to let multi-goal leads slip late on both occasions.
“If you try to step back, in both games we had periods of good football,” said Bradley. “Hopefully we can do that again. It fits with the work we’ve done all year in terms of our ability to control games, our ability to win the ball back – none of those things change.”
So what does Bradley want to see changed this time around?
“The Galaxy, not only in our [meetings], but in a number of games this year, have shown an ability when they are behind to take more risk, be more direct. We’ve just got to have a sense as to what that means. If we’re really good at the things we do, that’s less a factor. But then there’s times where you can tweak things tactically, so we have to see how the game goes.”
The Galaxy, for their part, are winless in their last four outings. Apart from last week’s 5-0 loss at Seattle, they were also the first team to score in all those games, suggesting that not only are they the kind of team that makes comebacks, but they also allow them — prompting Zlatan Ibrahimovic to question whether his side even deserve to go to the playoffs.
“There’s no guarantee that the next game goes the same way,” Bradley said, speaking both to the unpredictable nature of derby games and also to the similar rhythm the two LAFC vs. Galaxy contests have followed so far this season.
LAFC, meanwhile, have seemed to reawaken from a midsummer slump that saw them go winless across five league matches.
Among the in-form players is Lee Nguyen — scorer of the second goal against the Galaxy in July — now finding his groove in the starting 11 after an adjustment period following his arrival from the New England Revolution in May.
“I feel like we have this chemistry in the midfield with the guys,” Nguyen told MLSsoccer.com Tuesday about getting accustomed to his new box-to-box role and regaining match fitness. “It helps when you’re out there playing; you’re not thinking too much. Now you’re playing off your instincts, whereas before, you have a lot of instructions in the beginning and you try to make sure you’re doing all the right things.”
As if to symbolize his comfort with his new squad, Nguyen slipped an instinctual strike past Tim Howard to help LAFC top their second Rocky Mountain opponent in a row Sunday night (the Colorado Rapidsfell 2-0 at The Banc after Real Salt Lakesuffered the same scoreline last Wednesday).
The timing of a late-season run of form will be imperative for both teams as they look towards the postseason, a topic Bradley has begun to address with his players.
“For the first time the other day, we talked about the final 10 games and what that means in terms of standings and playoffs,” he said. “For sure in the final part of the season, that’s important to include in all the team talks.”
While Friday’s contest will be the final regular-season meeting between the two SoCal rivals, their respective positions in the Western Conference mean there is also more on the table than mere local bragging rights.
“The challenge is to put these extra-important Galaxy games in the context of everything else,” noted Bradley. “The fact that [Friday’s match] is later in the year certainly means that for both sides, there is more of a sense about where it fits in the playoff picture. [That] also means there is more at stake.”
“It’s definitely a big game, but not just because of [the rivalry] but also because we’re in the final stretch. We’re fighting for positions and playoff spots,” he said. “We’re both close in the standings right now and this could give us a little push to stretch that gap to get the win there.”