One of the youngest rivalries in MLS also has become one of the league’s best with plenty to play for on both sides.
Los Angeles FC is comfortably in front in the Western Conference and has the honor of being the only MLS team to have clinched a playoff berth thus far, but the team’s intensity figures to be at peak levels when it hosts the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday night.
The two best Galaxy games of the Zlatan Ibrahimovic era have come in victories over LAFC. The Galaxy’s high-intensity 3-2 win over LAFC on July 19, when Ibrahimovic delivered a hat trick, was second only to Ibrahimovic’s memorable debut in 2018 when he scored twice, including a goal from 40 yards away and a go-ahead header in the 90th minute.
LAFC (19-3-4, 61 points) has done nearly everything it has wanted to in dominating the league this season. Beating the Galaxy continues to be a box without a check mark.
In four previous meetings over two seasons, LAFC has two defeats and two ties against its neighbor.
“It’s just one more game, but when you play a team (in your) city, you always want to do your best, you want to win,” said LAFC’s Carlos Vela, the top MVP candidate, who leads the league with 26 goals and 128 shots and is tied for second with 15 assists. “You want to show that you are better than the other team of the city and it’s a good chance to show how good we are in this season.”
In the standings, the game means more to the Galaxy (13-11-2, 41 points), who have slipped to fourth place in the Western Conference after sitting in second for much of the season. The Galaxy are 1-0-1 over the past two games but are 1-3-1 going back to that victory over LAFC.
There will be no sneaking into Banc of California Stadium on Sunday, and the Galaxy only have themselves to blame.
Billboards popping up around town show Ibrahimovic in an apparent mocking gesture to Vela on field. Then there was Ibrahimovic’s comment from earlier this season that at Vela’s age, he was in the Premier League, establishing an apparent starting point for anybody who wants to talk about who is better.
When asked about taking part in head games, though, Ibrahimovic took a, ‘Who, me?’ approach.
“I think you need to stay focused, focused on the game and do your job and do your best and the rest is weak people fail, strong people win,” Ibrahimovic said, according to mlsssoccer.com. “I play my game. I play with my feet. I don’t try to get in somebody’s head or try to get them out of balance by speaking. .... I try to do what I’m best at and I succeed.”
—Field Level Media