Stars collide in Los Angeles as Galaxy face LAFC in first 2019 Trafico
The first El Trafico of 2019 is set for Friday night at Dignity Health Sports Park, reigniting Major League Soccer's newest, but perhaps most fascinating rivalry.
The game has everything you'd want out of a Tinseltown showdown: plenty of star power, some big story lines, and a host of intriguing subplots. One team is trying to stake its claim to soccer supremacy in Los Angeles, while the other is trying to claw back a bit of respect from its upstart neighbor.
Here's everything you need to know for the Los Angeles derby that has been cleverly named "El Trafico" in a town known for its gridlock.
LA Galaxy vs. LAFC
When: Friday, 10 p.m. ET, live on ESPN.
Backstory: LAFC enters El Trafico on pace to break MLS records for points, goals scored, goal differential, and a host of others. Bob Bradley's outfit is setting new standards midway through its second season and looks near unstoppable. Friday night is about continuing that march.
The Galaxy is more of a mixed bag. Guillermo Barros Schelotto's first season in Los Angeles hasn't been easy, with a rash of injuries and a dodgy defensive play hurting the club's consistency. Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains largely himself and can turn a game on its head, but the margins are smaller for the older LA club.
LAFC wasn't able to beat the Galaxy in its inaugural season, so Friday night is a chance to claim bragging rights for the first time.
How they match up: The task is significant for the Galaxy on the defensive end, with LAFC possessing a host of dangerous players and an intricate passing game that can pull teams apart in an instant. Expect Barros Schelotto to have a plan to slow down Carlos Vela -- whether that plan works might decide the game.
The Galaxy's star to watch: Ibrahimovic. Still capable of the astounding, the 37-year-old dominates attention when the Galaxy are on the attack. Depending so heavily on one player doesn't usually count as a sound strategy, but LA gets away with it because Zlatan is that good. Ibrahimovic has a penchant for the dramatic, something worth watching for on Friday night.
LAFC's star to watch: Vela. The Mexico international is having a historic season, leading the league in goals (19) and assists (12) while keying most of what LAFC does on the attacking end of the field. His legendary left foot is a constant danger and even when not threatening goal himself, his movement opens space for the rest of LAFC's attacking contingent.
X factor, LA Galaxy: Jonathan Dos Santos. As Dos Santos goes, so goes the Galaxy. If the Mexican midfielder can be a disruptive force in the center of the field and help slow down the transition game orchestrated by Latif Blessing and his cohorts, the Galaxy have a chance. Dos Santos is also a threat to score from distance.
X factor, LAFC: Diego Rossi. Rossi isn't the dynamic skill player that Vela is, but the Uruguayan has a nose for the goal that's almost unmatched in MLS. Vela rightly gets the lion's share of attention, but it's Rossi who will take advantage if the defense overcommits to stopping the Mexican star.
The Galaxy need to ... keep Vela from getting the ball in space on the right, where his ability to cut inside creates nightmares for even the best defensive units.
LAFC needs to ... stick with what it does best, pinging the ball around the midfield trio before going wide to the feet of Vela and Rossi. The goals will come.
Prediction: LAFC 3, LA Galaxy 0. These teams are not particularly close at the moment. LAFC is better and will show it.