It’s a Britishism that’s gradually spread to other soccer nations, the concept of that particular opponent that, for whatever reason, just has your number. And after the LA Galaxy’s 3-1 US Open Cup Round-of-16 win over LAFC on Wednesday night, Southern California's younger club may have to accept that the term applies to their crosstown rivals.
Especially at Dignity Health Sports Park, where the Galaxy now own a commanding 6W-0L-2D all-time home record against their noisy neighbors to the north.
“I think it's a mental thing. They know that when they come here, it's not going to be an easy game,” said Gs fullback and former LAFCer Raheem Edwards, who notched yet another assist in his breakout 2022 campaign. “It’s just the rivalry in general. Being away from home in a rivalry is not easy. They know it's not an easy task. So I think it maybe it creeps up the back of their mind.
“Me being on the LAFC side, I know when I came here to Dignity Health Sports Park, I knew it was going be a hard game.”
Edwards had piled a bit of extra kindling on this fiery faceoff in the leadup to the match, professing his desire to “piss off” LAFC’s 3252 supporters’ group. Tempers duly flared repeatedly throughout the game, finally boiling off with a sustained kerfuffle at the final whistle, capped by Julian Araujo brandishing his Galaxy jersey at the Black & Gold’s traveling fans.
“This one was the most heated game, for sure, for sure – well, the ones that I’ve played so far. It’s good, I think the rivalry needs this,” said Edwards, whose outstanding form just earned him a recall to the Canadian men's national team. “It’s always too nice, I think, in MLS; you see teams in the NBA and stuff like that, you need a little bit of grittiness, you need a little bit of fight and a little bit of drama. So I thought this was perfect.
“Because I need to get my guys fired up, and I also want the drama,” he later added when asked about his pregame remarks. “I think MLS is a little too soft in terms of players – I think players are too conservative, they don't want to look like the bad guy … I'm not even trying to be the bad guy. I'm just trying to light the fire up between both sides and my players.”
While the visitors looked adrift after Carlos Vela limped off early with a quad issue, the Galaxy seemed to relish the extra spite. Head coach Greg Vanney emphasized the importance of this display on the back of two straight ugly league losses on home turf.
“The response of our guys was not just about LAFC, it was about losing two games back-to-back on our field, 3-1 and 3-0,” he said. “The team on the other side happened to be LAFC, which is a rivalry, which also obviously adds a little bit of spice to the game. But our guys, I challenged them after the last game, they challenged each other and themselves, that they couldn't play in the LA Galaxy stadium and field the way we lost the games, the previous two.
“So the energy, I thought the competitive spirit, the energy, the speed at which we were moving and playing, set the tone for the game. We stayed organized, we stay connected, everybody played on both sides of the ball, with it and without it.”
“The way we were able to get out in transition, I haven't seen that for a little while and it was fun to watch,” said Vanney.
“It's the most complete [performance] in two years, since I've been here. In terms of duels, in terms of competition, in terms of playing every play, staying connected as a group, having everybody play on both sides of the ball every play, finishing our chances for the most part,” he added. “When you want to be champions, you play every game hard, you play with that kind of focus and concentration and attention to detail and play every play. And that was a good example for what it looks like for us when we do that. And we need to remember that and reproduce it.”
Said Cabral: “We tried to be more connected as a group defensively, and with the ball be more simple and efficient. So we tried tonight, and we did great.”
To add further joy to their evening, the Galaxy’s older California Clasico rivals the San Jose Earthquakes suffered an upset loss at the hands of USL Championship side Sacramento Republic, who will be LA’s quarterfinal opponent on June 21.
So the Gs find themselves three games away from their third Open Cup trophy, and perhaps are rediscovering their identity via the historic tournament, too.
“The most important thing is, we need to show that against any team. That's the mentality and the mindset we should have,” said Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, whose game-winning goal broke an eight-game scoring drought dating back to LA’s first El Trafico win of the year in early April.
“That doesn't mean that we're going to score three goals every single game or we're going to win every single game. We're going to aim for that, obviously. But I think the mentality, the confidence, the hunger, the bravery and the confidence that we showed, we need to maintain that and most [of all] in our home. We want to make every team [feel that] to come here, if they’re going to take any points, they need to give the game of their life … We set the bar, this is the minimum that we need to give every single game.”