No time for an intro this week, let’s just get to it.
Do LAFC need to win El Trafico (and MLS Cup) to go down in MLS history?
The pedantic answer to that question is, “Of course not, LAFC could easily win the Supporters’ Shield and set a single-points record without a win on Sunday against the Galaxy (10:30 pm ET; FS1). Same goes for MLS Cup.” Only we’re not pedants here, and the real answer to those questions is a little more complicated.
Let’s start with El Trafico. From a math perspective, it’s close to nothing. From an emotional perspective, it’s everything.
Bob Bradley himself couldn’t convince me this game doesn’t mean more. The man is far too competitive for that, his team reflects his personality and I can’t imagine the smug satisfaction from the other side has gone over well with anyone in that locker room. None of them want to hear the phrase “never beat the Galaxy” again as long as they live. Only one way to make sure of that.
LAFC need to win El Trafico. They need to shed the baggage. They need to make sure the Galaxy don’t have an annoying “yeah, but…” qualifier come 2020. Need isn’t mathematical. It doesn’t have to be logical. It’s pure desire, and it’s what’s made this rivalry so special from the jump.
For neutrals, the Rivalry Week capper seems destined to deliver yet again, more on that down below, but I think the more interesting question here was actually the one in parentheses. It might be too early, but I’m doing it anyway, such is the club’s sustained brilliance and singular drive.
Do LAFC need to win MLS Cup to go down in MLS history?
I think they do. Why? Legacy. Legacy is more than just supremacy. It’s the story we tell, the way we remember a team.
For Toronto FC, it was an unprecedented treble, the culmination of a worst-to-first transformation, Sebastian Giovinco’s blinding brilliance and validation for a pair of US national team stars after bitter disappointment. Atlanta United skipped walking entirely and ran their way into hearts, minds and the record book, both on the field and off. They re-defined the parameters for success, collective and individual, and club ambition in MLS. That’s their story.
So what’s LAFC’s story? And what will it be when all the soccer is played for the year?
If they win MLS Cup, it’s pretty straightforward. Their story is the tale of an expansion team that reached the pinnacle of soccer, that played the game in its purest, most effective form and showed the rest of the league that there’s another level to aspire to. Best team and best player in the history of MLS. Period. No arguments. Even a treble can’t stand up to that.
But if LAFC don’t? The playoffs are a crapshoot, after all. You never know.
If they don’t, then they’re the best team ever … that couldn’t quite win the big one. They’re the team that set the league alight from March to early October, but couldn’t get the job done at the Banc in a knockout game … again. They’re among the all-time greats, no doubt, but they don’t stand alone. This is the weight of expectations that great teams carry.
Bobby Warshaw disagrees with me. Bobby’s argument is that what LAFC are and have been is enough. That the way they play, the way they prepare, the way they built their squad merits all-time status. I’m not so sure. New York Red Bulls supporters will tell you that Supporters’ Shields are nice, but they’re not the end all, be all. No matter how they do it in elsewhere, playoffs are the final measuring stick in North America.
To be clear: I love that we have both a regular-season champion and a playoff champion. It's a way of canonizing the absolute greatest teams in league history.— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) August 18, 2019
Want to be remembered forever? Win both.
As of Friday morning, LAFC are sitting on a 19-point lead in the Western Conference and a 16-point cushion in the Supporters’ Shield race. I don’t think I’m in any danger of printing out a previous column and eating it, the safest bet of my life. The first traditional trophy of the MLS season – I still see you, Campeones Cup – effectively belongs to LAFC.
But if they want to be remembered forever? It starts with an El Trafico win, and it ends with a confetti shower in downtown Los Angeles. We’re watching history in the making. What story will be written when it’s all said and done?