LAFC vs. Galaxy: Winner take all in explosive Los Angeles Derby

LAFC Galaxy

Preview — Thursday night will be the biggest night the MLS has seen in over a decade. One of, if not already, the league’s most intense rivalries will make its postseason debut. In an already thrilling postseason, LAFC against the Galaxy will no doubt be the marquee match of the playoffs.

In addition, it will also be the biggest match LAFC have had in the club’s short history. No hyperbole here; this is one of those matches that ends up defining who you are as a club.

LAFC v Galaxy: LA Derby Makes Postseason Debut

It may sound like an exaggeration, but when you’re a historically dominant team in almost every major category — boasting an MVP frontrunner, too — and you still enter a postseason match viewed as the underdog, what does that say? There has only been one team in the entire Western Conference that hasn’t been handed a loss by LAFC yet.

Their rivals, the Galaxy.

Thursday’s match is proof that the best stories in sports come not from the destination at which we arrive, but the journey it took to get there.

If LAFC had held on to win their very first meeting in 2018, Thursday night wouldn’t matter as much. If Real Salt Lake hadn’t pulled off an upset on the road, this match might not mean as much. Even a single victory in the LA Derby over the last two years would have lessened the impact of Thursday night. However, for LAFC, everything they have endured, has led not only to this moment, but to this opponent.

LAFC’s Massive Moment

It’d be cliche to compare this rivalry to the likes of Red Sox/Yankees, or Lakers/Clippers. Especially when this rivalry is more comparable to Maverick/Iceman or Neo/Mr. Smith, not so much a hate for the person, as much it is a disdain for what they stand for. LAFC are the new, cool kids in the league. They have impressive support both home and away, a growing celebrity contingent and are the toast of the town after a historic season in only their second year.

There’s a sense of resentment from the Galaxy side. That’s a team that has five MLS Cups, has been around since 1996 and yet, have seen the city they claim, snatched from their grasp. It can be frustrating and they have taken out those frustrations against LAFC on the pitch.

By now, you know the story, LAFC have yet to beat their rivals. However, more than the results, it’s how they occurred that has left a poor taste in the mouth of everyone surrounding the club. From the infamous 3-0 up, 4-3 defeat, to Zlatan single-handedly dismantling the best defense in the league, getting a hat-trick in a 3-2 win. That is what makes this Western Conference Semi-Final the biggest, possibly ever.

All season long, LAFC have talked about having one goal in mind: winning the MLS Cup. Captain and MVP favorite Carlos Vela mentions at almost every post-game press conference the fact that nothing they do matters if the end result isn’t lifting the cup. Then again, for the team that has made this entire season one filled with firsts, and doing what hasn’t been done, it’s poetic that they will have to achieve this first, against this team, if they want their first MLS Cup.

The Battle For LA: Postseason Pandemonium

LAFC have done almost everything they can to make Los Angeles theirs. All but one very important thing: win. In fairness to them, they are only in the second year of competition, and the fact they are already one of the most impressive and entertaining teams in the league says a lot.

However, with sports, especially in a city as spoiled as Los Angeles, results matter the most. A short existence is no excuse for failing to get a full three points over your cross-town rivals in five opportunities.

While LAFC have gotten the praise and early coronation, the Galaxy have sat back, caressing their championships, with the confidence in knowing they have been the Kryptonite to render their rivals’ superhuman attack, useless. LAFC vs. Galaxy is more than just punching your ticket to the Conference Finals, for Galaxy it’s about keeping a hold on a city they represented first, before the sports sudden rise in America.

For LAFC, they are riding the peak of the new wave of interest, with a swell of supporters from within LA, it’s clear the people of the city have begun to choose sides. If they truly want the city, they will have to de-throne the current kings, in front of the world.

Legacies on the Line

The game within the game between these two teams is always Carlos Vela vs. Zlatan. This time around, there is a lot more at stake than just three points and a place in the standings. Thursday night could be the last time we see Zlatan play in the MLS and — if he is to depart after the season — doing so without a league title would be a blemish on his legendary career.

A self-proclaimed god, Zlatan was expected to arrive, win a title or two and leave having conquered another league. However, that has not gone to plan after missing the postseason last year, and now faced with the possibility of elimination at the hands of his rivals. While not winning an MLS Cup won’t diminish a legendary career overall, it would be a huge disappointment.

On the other side, Carlos Vela is looking to cement his place amongst the great sports stars to ever call Los Angeles home. From the moment the club made him their first signing in history, this was his goal. Not just the face of a franchise, but the heart of a city. The conductor of the greatest attacking orchestra the league has seen, and the man many thought was coming to LA to retire is now on the brink of leading them to ultimate success.

Often misunderstood, Vela has faced plenty of judgement from past behavior. However, since arriving in Los Angeles he has been not just a great player, but a great leader. Shattering the perception of selfishness, laziness, and not caring, Vela has maintained one goal, to finish his time in LA as MLS Champion. Thursday night, he can lead his team to their biggest victory to date, while cementing himself as a legend in his own right.

Prediction

Fireworks.

This is the most intense rivalry in the MLS, being played in one of the most incredible atmospheres at The Banc, during the postseason, with everything on the line. There is no way to make this match any more important than it already is.

 

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