Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Tale of the Tape: Who has the edge in the next El Tráfico?


El Tráfico. The Rose Bowl. July 4th fireworks.

Thursday’s blockbuster (10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) isn’t exactly a hard sell. Now, add in the fact that both LAFC and the LA Galaxy enter the match tied on points atop the Western Conference with the most combined quality (glad to have you back to elite status, Galaxy) we’ve ever seen in this rivalry’s history and you’ve got a recipe for a high-level match and, given it’s El Tráfico, high-level insanity.

So who has the edge? Let’s break it down.


Edge: LA Galaxy

Soccer Gods forgive me, for I have sinned.

My brain knows Hugo Lloris is the superior goalkeeper, so save your rage tweets for another day, but I can’t ignore my heart (and the underlying numbers this season) when it comes to MLS cult hero and Galaxy netminder John McCarthy.

According to FBRef’s database, no goalkeeper in MLS has prevented more goals (PSxG – GA … post shot expected goals minus goals allowed, basically how likely shots on target are to score minus how many found the back of the net) than McCarthy (+6.2). The 31-year-old veteran was especially impressive in April’s El Tráfico (+2.2), so there’s precedent for some holiday heroics. McCarthy was the only reason LA were in that game, one they still lost 2-1.

Lloris, for what it’s worth, has allowed basically one more goal than expected (-0.9 PSxG-GA). The Frenchman hasn’t been bad by any means, but he hasn’t exactly stood on his head a la Roman Bürki a year ago. LAFC ought not worry about that for a single second. Just because Lloris hasn’t hit God Mode yet doesn’t mean he won’t when it matters most down the line.

Fact is, unlike McCarthy, the recently minted All-Star hasn’t had to be otherworldly for his team to thrive. He’s rarely been busy, which is why the Black & Gold hold a clear edge in our next category.


Edge: LAFC

LAFC got off to a bit of a slow start, but they’ve strangled the life out of opposing attacks since mid-May.

Let’s take a closer look at their last nine games (8 wins, 1 draw)…

  • Goals Allowed: 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 1, 2, 0
  • Non-penalty xGA: 0.4, 0.4, 1.3, 0.2, 0.4, 1.3, 0.3, 1.3, 0.7

So how have they done it? LAFC allow the fewest touches (17.6) in their own 18 in the league. Given how they close off the box to opponents, it makes sense they allow the second-fewest shots on target per game and limit opponents to the furthest average shot distance in the league as well. Told you Lloris has it relatively easy.

Simply put, LAFC control the most important areas of the field and make it exceedingly difficult to create high-percentage scoring opportunities. Good recipe, that.

Individually, they’re stacked. In Sergi Palencia (wildly underrated/should have been an All-Star) and Ryan Hollingshead, Steve Cherundolo has the most well-rounded pair of outside backs in the league. In the middle, Aaron Long and Jesús Murillo are complimentary pillars of veteran know-how. They make good decisions, dominate the penalty area when needed and reliably keep the ball moving

And the Galaxy? Well, the gap is slowly closing. They’re noticeably better with Jalen Neal back from injury and the early-season set-piece woes are (mostly) in the rearview mirror.


Edge: LAFC

Both groups are immensely talented, but for me it comes down to balance, versatility and the ability to truly control matches in the middle of the park, both with AND without the ball.

LAFC’s trio of Ilie Sánchez, Eduard Atuesta and Timothy Tillman aren’t going to fill up the stat sheet like Riqui Puig or lead the league in passes completed like the Galaxy – though they probably could if that was the game model – but they’re my choice simply because all three are acutely aware of when and how to impact games.

They’re athletic enough and coordinated in their movements and positioning to suffocate opponents with the press. They’re positionally disciplined when LAFC play a bit deeper to set up the counter. On the ball, they can lull you in possession long enough to create the wide advantages LAFC love to exploit and they’re particularly adept at finding the wingers in transition moments, either to feet or in behind.

And yes, Atuesta and Tillman, in particular, often pop up with goals or assists as well.

As for the Galaxy, Riqui is Riqui. Nobody on the field Thursday can do what he does with the ball. Mark Delgado is one of the best two-way midfielders in the league. Edwin Cerrillo doesn’t get the love he deserves for being the rock behind it all.

The Galaxy trio is elite, too. The gap is small, but I’ll take LAFC.


Edge: Draw

Look, it’s basically a toss-up.

I’d argue this is the best winger matchup in MLS by a long shot.

LAFC’s pair are stacking goals and assists. Denis Bouanga is the most dangerous individual player of the lot, and Mateusz Bogusz might be the breakout player of the season in MLS. Meanwhile, Joseph Paintsil and Gabriel Pec are just a step behind in terms of production, but capable of matching anything the rivals put up.

Good luck to the fullbacks in this one!

Up top, the Galaxy currently have the edge. When Olivier Giroud arrives and Kiki Olivera returns, the clear edge goes to LAFC. But for now, with Dejan Joveljic in form, I’m calling this one a draw. Either group could carry the day.