We’re almost two months into the 2023 MLS season, but one of the newest rivalries in American soccer has yet to be renewed thus far this year. On the night of Feb. 24, the Rose Bowl Stadium was supposed to have held the first of three crosstown confrontations between LAFC, the 2022 MLS Cup Champions, and the LA Galaxy in the El Trafico rivalry.
Mother Nature, however, had a different game plan in mind that winter weekend. Due to the Los Angeles area"s first instance of a blizzard warning since 1989, the match at the Rose Bowl was postponed on the eve of the game. After the postponement, MLS rescheduled the contest for Tuesday, July 4 at the same venue.
After close to two months of waiting, El Trafico finally gets its first playing of the season this week. It"ll be a rare Sunday matinee for MLS. Live coverage from Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, CA, dubbed “The Punch Bowl" by Showtime Sports" lead blow-by-blow combat sports commentator Mauro Ranallo, will begin at 4:30 pm ET/ 1:30 pm PT on both Apple TV and FOX Sports.
When Last They Met…
Sunday"s latest chapter in the El Trafico rivalry marks the 18th all-time game in this series and the first contest between the two teams since last October in the MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinal. On Oct. 21, the two teams squared off in just the second meeting of these rivals in postseason play.
LAFC took the win-or-go-home tie by a final of 3-2. Forward/winger Denis Bouanga put the home team on the scoreboard first with a 23rd-minute tally. Team captain Carlos Vela assisted on the goal, but the lead was short-lived.
Just before halftime, the Galaxy leveled the match at 1-1 with a goal from forward Samuel Grandsir, who will not factor into any of the three El Trafico games this season. Grandsir left MLS by way of the transfer portal in late January.
A Seesaw Second Half Leads to LAFC Victory
Late in the game, Bouanga completed his brace with an 80th-minute strike, but Galaxy forward Dejan Joveljic tied it up again at 2-2. A 93rd-minute goal from Cristian Arango booked LAFC"s place in the conference final.
LAFC would go on to take MLS Cup on penalties for the first championship in team history. Since then, these two sides have been going in opposite directions.
LA Galaxy in Freefall Ahead of El Trafico on Sunday
Since the start of the season, the Los Angeles Galaxy, managed by Greg Vanney, have yet to register a win, having posted a record of 0-3-3 in the previous six matches with three points in the standings. Entering Matchday 8, Los Angeles sits in 13th place on the Western Conference table, level on points with Sporting Kansas City.
The Galaxy holds the edge for 13th place thanks to having scored one more goal than SKC thus far this season. MLSSoccer.com"s Charles Boehm wrote Thursday that although it might be early on in the season, this is a mammoth 90 minutes (plus stoppage time) if Los Angeles is to recover.
“From angry embarrassment with his team"s breakdowns and lack of intensity to spiraling rage with the officiating decisions LA feel keep breaking against them, Vanney has been going through it," opined Boehm.
Galaxy Fans Are Restless
Even during the preseason, supporters of the LA Galaxy were hopping mad, going as far as to threaten that they wouldn"t show up to the originally-scheduled Feb. 25 regular-season opener in Pasadena unless and until the decision to reinstate Chris Klein as the president of the charter MLS side was reversed. Klein"s deal with the club lapsed at the end of last year"s campaign.
The move by the Galaxy organization was stewed in controversy, however. Klein had been placed under suspension by Major League Soccer after the season over a breach in salary rules stemming from the team"s signing of Cristian Pavon four years ago.
#KleinOut has been a trending topic on Twitter throughout the young season, but earlier this week, he revealed in a mass email sent out to season-ticket subscribers of the team that he will resign as LA Galaxy president if they fail to qualify for this year"s expanded MLS Cup Playoffs. Klein"s clock is already ticking. If Los Angeles doesn"t turn it around quickly beginning with Sunday"s El Trafico, he, and Greg Vanney, may face the pink slip in short order.
A Different Story Across Town
Meanwhile, BMO Stadium"s MLS tenant, LAFC, has had a successful start to their defense of last year"s MLS Cup title. Ahead of Sunday"s match, the club sits in third place in the Western Conference table, having gone 4-2-0 through the first six matches of the season.
Expansion side St. Louis City SC and last year"s CONCACAF Champions League winners, the Seattle Sounders, make up the rest of the top three out west. Although LAFC is only in its sixth season in the league, they"re far and away the toast of the town as far as soccer goes in recent times.
Denis Bouanga Shining Again
Denis Bouanga has been the star player for the defending champions in the early part of the season. He"s accounted for six goals in league play, including a hat-trick last Saturday night against Austin FC.
Bouanga"s performance already has people talking about Landon Donovan MVP Award possibilities later on in the fall, including LAFC head coach Steve Cherundulo. He entered a plea for his forward"s case after last week"s win.
“If we could teach him how to set up goals more often [and] a little better, then he"s hands down the best player in the league," Cherundulo said. “There"s still room for improvement, and that"s the scary thing."
The season is still young, so if Bouanga stays focused and doesn"t enter a slump, he"ll find himself in the conversation for MVP honors
El Trafico sees the teams at a crossroads on Sunday. LAFC should have the edge in this chapter of the rivalry, but anything can happen during a given week in MLS.
Prediction: LAFC 3, LA Galaxy 0.
Who do you have winning? Let us know in the comments.
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