El Trafico: A One-of-a-Kind MLS Rivalry

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Tonight, Los Angeles Football Club and Los Angeles Galaxy square off for the 14th time. Just over four years have passed since the first iteration of this intriguing clash, and it’s quickly blossomed into MLS’ biggest rivalry.

Dubbed ‘El Trafico,’ the rivalry boasts two of the most passionate fanbases in MLS. The teams themselves are loaded with talent. Nearly every match between the two has gone down as an all-time league classic. Tonight should be no different. Let’s take a look back at the three best LAFC-Galaxy matches to date.

El Trafico: The Best of LAFC vs LA Galaxy

The Ibrahimovic Show, 2018

This rivalry had already started before the two teams met for the first time. From the moment LAFC were announced as an expansion club, their fans made it a mission to take over the city of Los Angeles. Just four weeks into their inaugural season, LAFC got a chance. On March 31, 2018, LAFC traveled to the Galaxy’s home in Carson for the first iteration of ‘El Trafico.’

Interest was running high in the match, not only in LA and the United States, but around the world. The match was set to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Galaxy debut. The flashy Swede had just recently arrived in MLS, and had already delivered his legendary remark — “LA, welcome to Zlatan.” Unfortunately for his European fans, ‘Ibra’ started the match on the bench.

It took just five minutes for LAFC to open the scoring. Mexican international Carlos Vela received the ball on the edge of the penalty box, rounded Ashley Cole and sent a beautiful curler into the top left corner. Less than 300 seconds in, the first goal in ‘El Trafico’ history had been scored.

Twenty minutes later, Vela solidified his status as an LAFC legend. It was Diego Rossi who found Vela in the box. The striker was then forced to turn back to avoid the flailing hands of goalkeeper David Bingham. With six defenders between him and the goal, Vela expertly lofted the ball off the bar and over the line. Screamer times two.

The Galaxy’s struggles continued into the second half with Daniel Steres putting the ball in his own net just three minutes in. With the score 3-0 to LAFC, the hosts managed to get one back through Sebastian Lletget. The defender found space down the middle off a defensive error and struck the ball cleanly to get Galaxy within two.

The rest, as they say, is history. In the 71st minute, Ibrahimovic came on for his MLS debut. 25,000 fans rose as one to give him a standing ovation as he entered the pitch. Not two minutes later, it was Ibrahimovic who started the counter-attack that would end with a Chris Pontius bullet header goal. Out of nowhere, it was game on at Dignity Health Stadium.

In the 77th minute, Zlatan scored THAT volley. 40 yards out from goal, the ball bouncing with no one near it, Ibrahimovic produces a lightning bolt of a shot. To this day, the goal is regarded by many to be the best in MLS history, and rightly so. Everything about it was perfect. The timing, the weight, the precision. 3-3 in Carson.

At that point, it was written in the stars that Ibrahimovic score the winner. One minute into stoppage time, Cole sent a beautiful cross into the box. Ibrahimovic connected with a header, and LA Galaxy had stunned the visitors. Every second of this match had been entertaining, and it was a taste of what was yet to come.

Playoff Drama, 2019

Fast-forward a year and a half, and ‘El Trafico’ had quickly become must-see television. Vela and Ibrahimovic kept getting better and better, and the fans kept getting louder. The soccer gods took note and blessed MLS fans with a first-ever playoff match between the two clubs. On October 24th, 2019, the 6th ‘El Trafico’ took place at Banc of California Stadium in the conference semi-finals.

It was deja vu for the Galaxy as Vela opened the scoring from a Rossi assist 16 minutes in, before doubling his side’s lead in the 40th minute. The second goal was a beautiful team move ending in a perfect pass from Brian Rodriguez to Vela. The Mexican made no mistake, tapping the ball in to make it 2-0.

Rather than let the rest of the match pan out in the same way, Galaxy responded immediately. Sixty seconds after going down 2-0, the visitors scored. Ibrahimovic provided the assist, Christian Pavon sent a low ball past Tyler Miller and the Galaxy were back in it.

Ibrahimovic inevitably got on the scoresheet, equalizing with a half-volley from 10 yards out in the 55th minute. The Swede capitalized on a mix-up in the LAFC defense and expertly leveled the scoreline.

Both teams had an abundance of chances over the next ten minutes, but it was LAFC who once more got their noses in front. Vela got his third goal involvement of the night when he played in Rossi on the left. The winger struck from a tough angle with his left foot and watched as the ball bounced off the inside of the post and in to make it 3-2. Two minutes later, the hosts made it four. Rossi turned provider for an unmarked Adama Diomande, who headed the ball effortlessly into the goal.

Rolf Feltscher kept the tie within reach by turning in a Romain Alessandrini free kick in the 77th minute, but Galaxy fans’ hearts were broken once more when Diomande got his brace in the 80th. The Norwegian sped straight through the Galaxy defense and scored with a powerful right-footed shot to send LAFC to the conference finals.

The win was LAFC’s first in ‘El Trafico’ history, but the match was just the second in a line of instant rivalry classics. More drama was yet to come.

Honors Even, 2021

Ibrahimovic had long returned to AC Milan come the enthralling 3-3 ‘El Trafico’ draw that took place last August. Several other star players had left the Los Angeles clubs, and Vela was out with injury. Despite this, the new generation proved that this fixture was still one worth watching.

Galaxy were the first to strike, Serbian starlet Dejan Joveljic lobbing Tomas Romero twenty minutes in to make it 1-0. The visitors didn’t manage to hold the lead to the end of the first half though, with Cristian Arango’s 44th minute penalty leveling things at one goal apiece.

The intensity didn’t diminish going into the second half. The Galaxy had a brilliant chance in the 51st minute, Romero pulling off a ridiculous stop off a Kevin Cabral header. LAFC made good use of the lifeline, taking the lead for the first time in the 58th minute. After Diego Rossi had two brilliant shots saved by Jonathan Bond, a deflection found its way to Brian Rodriguez. The Uruguayan weaved past three defenders before converting the 1-on-1 to make it 2-1 LAFC.

The Galaxy weren’t about to let another ‘Trafico’ slip away from them. Joveljic got his brace in the 64th minute, scoring with a beautiful left-footed shot. His effort stunned the hopeless Romero and made it 2-2. Rodriguez took Joveljic netting his second goal of the day personally. Just two minutes after the Serb’s strike, he capitalized on another deflection, smacking the ball into Bond’s empty net to make it 3-2 to the hosts.

Cabral had the last word. Clearly haunted by his previous miss, he scored a beauty off a Julian Araujo pass in the 86th minute. The goal made it 3-3, officially bringing an end to one of the best draws in MLS history.

More of the Same Tonight in El Trafico?

If history is any indication, you should take the time out of your day to tune in to tonight’s ‘El Trafico.’ Plot twists of all sorts are a given, and high-quality soccer is certainly on the horizon. This rivalry has forever transformed MLS, and tonight, we get the chance to see two amazing teams go head-to-head once more. Whether you’re a Galaxy fan, LAFC lover or neutral, ‘El Trafico’ is entertainment of the highest sort.



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