It's time for the most anticipated MLS match of the season to date: LAFC vs. LA Galaxy in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. The stage is set for the Western Conference semifinal Thursday night (10:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN4, TVAS in Canada) at Banc of California Stadium
This matchup has produced 24 goals (!) in just five iterations so far, with myriad moments and incredible atmospheres. What could be next? Let's take a look:
Zlatan vs. Vela
Two of the three 2019 Landon Donovan MLS MVP award finalists – who have put together two of the best individual seasons in league history, who happen to play in the same city of stars – will duke it out. Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are inextricably linked in MLS. That's the deal.
Vela broke the league record for goals (34) and goals plus assists (49), all while captaining LAFC to a league record for points in a season (72) and goal differential (plus 48). That's a lot of records. Zlatan, meanwhile, would be the runaway MVP favorite if not for Vela, with 30 goals and seven assists of his own. He also led the league in game-winning goals (9) and scored more than half of his team's goals.
There has been some public back-and-forth between the two, mostly revolving around who the current MLS GOAT is. Vela has the stats and team success; Zlatan has the series success. Who will have the playoff success?
All of the goals
El Trafico has produced zero shutouts and no fewer than two goals in a game. That's wild. 4-3, 3-3 and 3-2 are three of the five scorelines. Come on. That is borderline fan-fiction.
There have been some bangers, too. Vela's trademark curling left-footed golazo. Zlatan's debut goal. Zlatan's juggling half-volley. Just watch that above video, it's a fantastic way to spend a few minutes.
All of the moments
Zlatan's arrival. A few Galaxy comebacks. An LAFC comeback. The Vela injury and angry substitution. Ibra's controversial elbow on Mohamed El-Munir.
What's going to be the first playoff moment? Who's going to be the first hero? What goal (or save, or miss, or tackle) will go into the folklore of this rivalry?
First playoff clash in this rivalry
Remember how memorable the first regular-season game was in this rivalry, the 4-3 Galaxy comeback? The first playoff match couldn't possibly live up to that standard ... right?
The playoff match will add another dimension to the rivalry and further solidify the mutual hatred. The atmosphere for this match is always incredible and the play on the field is always intense. Somehow, the atmosphere will be even better and the play even more intense tonight.
Coach of the year vs. Copa Libertadores finalist
Bob Bradley was just named 2019 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year, while Guillermo Barros Schelotto is less than a year removed from leading Boca Juniors to the Copa Libertadores final. We all know of the star power on the pitch, but don't forget about what's on the touchline.
Will Adama Diomande return for LAFC? Who replaces Mark-Anthony Kaye in midfield? Who plays in the midfield for the Galaxy? Who makes up the backline, after GBS opted to play natural center backs at both fullback spots against the 2-1 Round One win over Minnesota?
Hottest ticket in MLS
The cheapest ticket as of Wednesday night was $160. The average resale ticket was $307. There are over 300 media credential requests.
Banc of California Stadium is the place to be on Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Zlatan gets up for big games (so does Vela!)
Ibra has scored more goals in this series than anyone else ... but Vela isn't far behind. Zlatan has eight and Vela seven, while third is Latif Blessing with two.
The superstars step up.
Vela and Ibra are the headliners, but the secondary names are stars in their own right, too.
Cristian Pavon is an Argentinian international, Walker Zimmerman is a US international. So is Sebastian Lletget. Diego Rossi might be the next big-money MLS-export. Eduard Atuesta is a popular candidate for Best XI. Jonathan dos Santos might be the best two-way midfielder in the league and was perhaps the best player at this summer's Gold Cup, leading Mexico to the trophy. Romain Alessandrini will come off the bench.
With a little bit of youth
Rossi (21) and Pavon (23) will play leading roles for their sides. Brian Rodriguez (19) is one of the top prospects in this hemisphere and Uriel Antuna (22) broke into the Mexican national team this summer. Galaxy right back/midfielder Julian Araujo (18) and LAFC left back Diego Palacios (20) could make cameos, too.