Huge victories became the norm. It didn’t seem to matter who they played or where they played, LAFC were dead set on three points under all circumstances.
Yes, they would be dealt two league losses — both away, both to somewhat weaker opposition in the Vancouver Whitecaps and Colorado Rapids -- but these were followed by emphatic victories against the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers, respectively. Even the club’s U.S. Open Cup loss to the Timbers didn’t disrupt them, answered immediately by another heavily rotated squad picking up a tricky road victory against the Houston Dynamo.
But then that Galaxy game came — and they lost 3-2 — with captain Carlos Vela, coach Bob Bradley, and most onlookers recognizing that among all four contests with their neighbors, that July 19 match at Dignity Health Sports Park was the only one they’d been the second-best team on the pitch, even though they had racked up an 0-2-2 record against them all-time. The alarm bells were finally ringing.
But after Wednesday evening’s 4-0 thrashing of the San Jose Earthquakes, the Black & Gold have picked up five straight victories on the bounce, have secured a playoff place, and are on pace to lock down the Supporters’ Shield with matches to spare.
“There’s been enough time between the last Galaxy match and the one that’s upcoming, enough challenges that we’ve faced, teams that were hot, where they were really looking at our game as a big test,” Bradley said leading up to the match. “I think we’ve handled all those.”
With the Southern California rivals set to meet in a Heineken Rivalry Week clash on Sunday at Banc of California Stadium (10:30 ET | FS1 in US; TSN in Canada), it’s the Galaxy who are seemingly in trouble — picking up just four points out of 15 since beating LAFC.
Sunday will mark LAFC’s fifth matchup with their regional foes.
“We have players that in their experiences know what derbies are like,” Bradley said. “We referred last year at one point in a conversation with Diego [Rossi] about his experience in Uruguay and knowing what it was like when Peñarol played Nacional and so I think that players appreciate that wherever they play there’s going to be one game that means a little bit more.”
It’s one thing to try to draw from experience in theory. It’s another for Bradley’s players to begin to viscerally feel the importance of the derby in their boots.
After the last loss, Bradley and his players alluded to the need to match the Galaxy’s intensity, exemplified in Zlatan Ibrahimović’s phenomenal hat trick, his remarks on and off the field, and, most pointedly, his stray elbow which fractured LAFC left back Mohammed El-Munir’s skull.
For his part, in a post-match interview following his return to action on Wednesday, El-Munir held the party line many players have echoed since last year — that the Galaxy match is just another three points. But when the 3252 belted out chants of “We Want Carson” as players left the field, it was clear there are many in the Black & Gold universe who feel otherwise.
“We knew from the start last year that matches with the Galaxy would take on a whole different light. So we knew that,” said Bradley. “We’ve all experienced it wherever we’ve been and so we just try to use that and now that we’re here we all appreciate even in the early days of LAFC that the games with the Galaxy are different and special.”