Los Angeles - home of the Hollywood elite, Disneyland and now, potentially, the greatest game in the MLS' 23-year history.
Tonight, Los Angeles FC and LA Galaxy will face each other in the Western Conference semi-finals in a derby known across the States as the 'El Trafico,' nicknamed in reference to the city’s notoriously slow highways, a somewhat mundane nickname for a game that will be anything but.
As soon as the play-off places were set for this season, this was the match most picked out as a potentially year-defining clash. This has the potential to be a genuine classic.
That might seem like hyperbole, but it’s important to understand the context of this fixture. LAFC were established two years ago to fill the hole many felt existed in the Californian football landscape. The LA Galaxy are the most successful franchise in MLS history, but being located out in Carson they never managed to truly embed themselves in Los Angeles. LAFC, a club part-owned by Will Ferrell, Mia Hamm, Magic Johnson and Vincent Tan, have done everything they can to become the city’s team.
They have gone toe-to-toe with the Galaxy both on and off the field. This has culminated in an astonishing season from Bob Bradley’s team. LAFC are the red hot favourites to go all the way and clinch their first-ever MLS Cup, but they must first get past the team they have long aspired to surpass.
And just to add to the drama, LAFC's bogey team just so happens to be their closest and fiercest rivals. In fact, LAFC have still to beat the Galaxy in the two years of their existence (no wins in five matches), losing 3-2 and drawing 3-3 in the two games played against them in 2019.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored eight goals in five games against LAFC. The Swede has 50 goals in 50 appearances in his two seasons as an LA Galaxy player, illustrating the impact he has made in MLS. If there’s one player who can end Los Angeles FC’s run almost single-handedly, it’s the player who likened himself just a few weeks to a Ferrari among Fiats.
In Carlos Vela, though, LAFC boast the league’s best performer in 2019. The Mexican broke MLS’s single-season scoring record by hitting 34 goals, netting in nine consecutive games coming into the play-offs. Vela isn’t just a goalscorer, though. He has also created the most clear cut chances in MLS this season (20).
Vela is the talent around which Bradley, who has rehabilitated his image after flopping at Swansea City, has built his team. LAFC have scored more goals (85) than any other MLS side in 2019 and boast the best defensive record in the league too.
But there’s just something about the LA Galaxy that unsettles them, who knows where this plot line will go. Grab the popcorn, this one's not to be missed.