CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy certainly respect crosstown rivals LAFC and what the runaway Supporters' Shield leaders have achieved through the first four months or so of the Major League Soccer season.
That doesn't mean they want to throw a ton of praise on the second-year side, who have roared to a 14-2-4 record, a 10-point edge on Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia and 11-point advantage on the West's No. 2 team, Seattle, along the way racking up an audacious goal difference (plus-36) that tops all but two other teams' strike totals for the campaign.
LAFC clearly are the best team in MLS at the moment, right?
“Yes, easily,” Galaxy center back Daniel Steres told MLSsoccer.com Monday afternoon. “They're ahead on points by a lot, the goal difference is huge. They're in a groove, they're playing well, they seem to have found their identity, and they're rolling right now.”
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It'll make for a most difficult test at Dignity Health Sports Park in Friday's fourth El Trafico derby showdown (10 pm ET | ESPN, TSN2 — Full TV & streaming info), which means plenty for LA (11-8-1), especially coming off a stunningly one-sided loss last week to their California Clasico rivals the San Jose Earthquakes.
The Galaxy, who won the 2018 season series via a 4-3 Zlatan Ibrahimovic-led comeback victory and two draws, have dropped into third place in the Western Conference, a point behind the Sounders. LAFC enter Friday’s match on a three-game league winning tear after the second-year club put together seven- and eight-game unbeaten streaks already this year. Slowing down Carlos Vela, who has 19 goals and a dozen assists in 19 games, and that deadly attack is a must, but pay too much attention to the Mexican forward and someone else will deliver the death blow.
“They use everybody, you know what I mean?” said Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget, who is uncertain for the game as he recovers from a pelvic injury. “It's just a good team in general. They don't depend on one guy or two guys. Obviously, they have key players, which every team does, but they use everybody, man.
“Everybody's an important piece. Everybody does their job, and Bob [Bradley, LAFC's head coach] has done a good job of keeping it that way and everybody on the same page. That's what it looks like.”
Vela, who leads the league in goals and shares the assist lead with New York City FC's Maxi Moralez, comes in rested. He was among a handful of first-choice players Bradley had on the bench or out of the 18-player gameday roster in Friday's 3-1 league win at Houston, which followed LAFC's U.S. Open Cup exit by two days.
With Vela and Diego Rossi wide, either Adama Diomande or Christian Ramirez up top, Eduard Atuesta with Mark-Anthony Kaye and Lee Nguyen or Latif Blessing in midfield, and outside backs Steven Beitashour, Jordan Harvey and sometimes Mohamed El-Munir, LAFC's attacking group has the Galaxy's attention.
“They're all fast players, they all like to move around and make darting runs,” Steres said. “You've just got to be aware of where they are and try to keep them from getting behind you, getting into one-on-one situations.”
The key is winning the midfield battle, no easy task.
“Vela and Rossi, maybe they [are] the best on the team,” LA head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said, “but they have the midfielders that give to them the dynamic. They give to them the possibility to play one-on-one, they always try to touch the ball and then find the pass to Vela and Rossi to play one-on-one.”
Lletget says “everything for them is their midfield.”
“If we can shut down their midfield, we'll be in very good shape,” he said. “I think anytime that we're in the final third, we're always going to create chances and create goals, but I think we have to shut their midfield down.”