LAFC still haven't beaten the LA Galaxy, after three tries in 2018. That just might bother them a bit.
Twice, as you may recall, LAFC held multi-goal leads in this fixture, including the now-infamous inaugural edition of this rivalry. Being up 3-0 at halftime, against a deflated team in front of a deflated crowd, may not quite be 28-3 in the third quarter of a Super Bowl, but it ain't far off. Then Zlatan Ibrahimovic happened, and the Galaxy won 4-3. So it goes.
The next two games ended in draws, the first of which sowed the seeds of Andre Horta's eventual transfer away from SoCal less than a year in town. One of his first LAFC involvements was an ill-advised backpass minutes before the final whistle, sealing another multi-goal collapse. So it goes.
Less than a year later, the history is already piling up. On Friday, the 2019's first El Trafico installment kicks off at Dignity Health Sports Park (10 pm ET | ESPN, TSN2 — Full TV & streaming info).
LAFC's 2019 has been all-conquering, deploying something of a scorched-earth policy. They are the runaway Supporters' Shield leaders and on pace to rewrite the record books. The Galaxy, not too shabby themselves, sit third in the West, though they are dangerously close to slipping into the crowded subway car that is the playoff race out West if they're not careful. A win on Friday would take them a step closer to that glorious, air-conditioned corner seat and peg back their rivals' quest for history, too. A loss inflates LAFC's already-imperious season.
So it's an uphill battle for L.A.'s incumbents. Here's how the rivals match up.
Both starting keepers are strong; this is a toss-up.
Tyler Miller and LAFC have conceded fewer goals, though a suffocating press and dominant attack often keeps opponents far away from his goal. David Bingham nearly doubles Miller's saves (83-42). Both rate high among the top handful of MLS's shot-stoppers in GA-xGA (goals against minus expected goals against), per American Soccer Analysis. Bingham's distribution is probably a little better than Miller's, but Miller just caught a few call-ups to the USMNT.
For a team with such a pyrotechnic attack, it feels unfair that they'd also have one of the league's top defensive units. But here we are.
Walker Zimmerman is a top candidate for Defender of the Year and Eddie Segura has been one of the unheralded signings of the season. Jordan Harvey and Steven Beitashour are solid as always. It's a complete unit.
The Galaxy have a strong backline, too. Diego Polenta's first half-season in the league is encouraging, while Julian Araujo is one of MLS's brightest prospects.
One team has Carlos Vela. That same team also has Diego Rossi. It's pretty simple.
Uriel Antuna raised his profile with strong performances for Mexico at the Gold Cup, aided by a hat trick against Cuba, but isn't on Rossi's level. And no one in MLS is in Vela's stratosphere right now.
The Galaxy are on the board!
Ibrahimovic can be the great equalizer in this matchup, such is his galactic pull. Now that the defense is strong enough in 2018 to provide a foundation for Ibra's individual brilliance, the Galaxy have run towards the top of the West all season. With that as a blueprint heading into Friday, the Galaxy have more than a chance.
This is no knock on Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who has done a very good job with the Galaxy in his first season.
Bob Bradley has been phenomenal at LAFC. He did a great job in their expansion season, then, ever insatiable, pushed to a historic rate in 2019. If these simplified words aren't enough, take it from EVP John Thorrington, who regularly points to Bradley's outstanding ability as the key cog in LAFC's machine:
"The rare skill that Bob has is getting the most out of the top end guys as well as educating the players across our roster," Thorrington told MLSsoccer.com in May. "It’s a unique skill that we are benefiting from and will continue as we start bringing in more academy players. Usually, it’s an either/or in terms of managing stars vs. developing young talent and Bob, as he’s shown throughout his career, has the ability to do both."