LOS ANGELES – Ahead of the first-ever El Trafico pitting MLS standard-bearers LA Galaxy against red-hot newcomers Los Angeles Football Club, both teams announced big signings, albeit from opposing schools of thought.
“I think there are clubs in the world, and the Galaxy over the years have gone in this direction, that are attracted to the biggest names,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley explained when asked about the Galaxy’s acquisition of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. “I think that after we signed Carlos Vela, then Diego [Rossi], and now Andre [Horta], there is a real model of what kind of football we want to play.”
And what style is that?
“We want to continue to build a team where the football speaks the loudest.”
That attitude trickled down to the expansion team’s players, who agreed that the arrival of their neighbor’s new Swedish attacker only deepened the line in the sand between the teams.
“We both have a little bit different goals,” said veteran midfielder Benny Feilhaber. “They are the flag-bearers of the league, they’ve won five times, right? They have quite a history, but they came off a bad season last season. They’ve changed a lot of their team around this year, so they’ve got, I think, a lot more to prove then we do. We’re a brand-new team.”
LAFC have leapt at opportunities to break new ground since their creation, soliciting supporter input into everything from the colors to the stadium design, and that attitude to do things differently has been extended into the way they’ve built the roster.
On Tuesday, the club’s general manager John Thorrington was quick to applaud LAFC’s large and dynamic ownership group for making the necessary funds available to sign Horta, despite him being a relative unknown stateside.
While Ibrahimovic’s potential ability to perform on the field has been the subject of much speculation, his name attracted global attention for another reason.
“Zlatan is probably the biggest personality in world football,” Feilhaber said. “It’s exciting to have that kind of personality in our league.”
Feilhaber mentioned that players knew the Swede was coming to the league for quite some time, so the signing came as no surprise. His teammate, MLS veteran defender Jordan Harvey, also didn’t show any sign of being concerned about a striker with Ibrahimović’s track record joining the league.
“[The Ibrahimović signing] definitely adds a little bit bigger of a spotlight on this game,” Harvey admitted, before considering how it would influence LAFC’s approach. “Honestly, the way we’ve been playing, Bob has really implemented the base of how he wants to play, we’re going to do that game in and game out.”
However well Ibrahimović plays, the signings signal a statement of intent by the two clubs that reminds Bradley of another pair of teams in another era.
“In the old days, in the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona, you had the Galacticos and that was very much the Real Madrid style. Barcelona was taking players from La Masia and had a real picture of how they wanted to play. We are trying to go in that direction.”
Ibrahimović will turn 37 later this year, around the time Horta turns 22. The age gap brings to mind another comparison for the coach.
“In basketball terms, when the Lakers negotiated the trade and drafted Kobe Bryant, it was with the idea that he could become a star right in front of everybody’s eyes,” Bradley said.
In a conversation with club broadcaster Max Bretos, Bradley imagined the possibility for the Portuguese youngster to one day resemble Xavi Hernández or Kevin De Bruyne.
Whether or not Ibrahimović takes the field Saturday, Bradley welcomes the further divergence between the clubs that his arrival signals.
“One of the things that’s exciting here in LA, and exciting in the league, is that there are teams with different identities and different ways of going about things,” Bradley said. “I think everything that’s happened in the last week speaks to that.”