LA Galaxy group celebration celebrate vs LAFC
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Are red-hot LA Galaxy El Trafico favorites? Think again, says Guillermo Barros Schelotto

The LA Galaxy enter this Sunday's El Trafico meeting on a three-game winning streak that began with a 2-0 win at LAFC, and knowing their crosstown rivals will be without playmaker Carlos Vela.

Does that mean that MLS's original Los Angeles team has returned to the throne of favorites? Hardly, Galaxy manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto said Friday.

"I think it's a new game," Schelotto said. "I don't think much will change about tactics, but we need to keep working game by game to be better than before. We know it's a very big game, for us, for them. We are playing (against) a really good team, a really good team. I don't care if they lose two games (before beating) San Jose.

"But we need to be focused. We need to be serious. We need to be professional. Everything we have, we have to put on the pitch if we're going to beat them again. If not the result will be ... I don't know."

It's a sensible analysis given these teams' history in this compacted season. LAFC rampaged to a 6-2 win in the sides' first meeting of 2020 during group play of the MLS is Back Tournament, a competition Vela missed due to family reasons.

Highlights: LAFC 0, LA Galaxy 2

The Galaxy won their second meeting with Vela on the field for the first 57 minutes before a knee sprain forced him out with the Galaxy already leading 2-0 at at Banc of California Stadium, thanks to two assists from Julian Araujo and the beginning of an impressive run of form from Cristian Pavon.

“Cristian’s performances speak for themselves,” Schelotto said in Spanish. “Today he’s playing like a locomotive. He’s good, he’s strong. He’s mature. He’s aggressive. The truth is that he’s matured an incredible way in the last year. He’s better than before. And no doubt he’s very important.”

Pavon aside, the Galaxy have their own roster woes. Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez is getting closer to returning from a calf injury, but that won't come until next week's game against San Jose. Injury kept Sacha Klestjan off the gameday roster the last two matches, though he could be available Sunday. And Jonathan dos Santos has recovered from sports hernia surgery, but has appeared only off the bench since, playing 81 minutes across three appearances. 

"It's been a long, complicated process, a frustrating one," Dos Santos said through an interpreter. "Thankfully surgery was great and we are working through the process of recovery. I've been training with the team for two weeks, and we're working hard with the coaches and the team doctors. I feel better every day, and I'm close to hopefully playing 90 minutes again and starting, which is something I have been longing for."

After their own struggles, LAFC enter Sunday having expressed some frustration in a 5-1 midweek win over the San Jose Earthquakes.

Highlights: LAFC 5, San Jose 1

And they do so with a new No. 1 goalkeeper for the near future, Pablo Sisniega, who got the nod from manager Bob Bradley in the win over San Jose ahead of Kenneth Vermeer.

“We had spoken a little in Orlando that this opportunity could come if I did things well,” Sisniega said in Spanish on Friday. “He told me to keep preparing and to take advantage and that he has confidence in me. And now that I have the opportunity, I have to take maximum advantage of it and not let it slip.”

Sunday may present the most unusual El Trafico yet. Not only will it be without fans at Dignity Health Sports Park, but it will be the sides' second meeting in two weeks and third meeting in less than two months, the most condensed stretch in the rivalry's three-year history.

Does that take any of the shine away?

"I don’t know the answer to that," Bradley said Friday during his conference call. "I know that whenever we play them it means a lot to our fans. We know it will be a hard game, intensity and we want to be at our best. Everyone knows the schedule this year is difficult and strange. And with so many things to be on top of, we try to focus on what we control, which is how we play and football ideas. If you spend too much time this year worrying about everything else, you get no football."

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