CARSON, Calif. – The latest edition of El Trafico between the Galaxy and Los Angeles FC won’t be played until Sunday at Banc of California Stadium (7:30 p.m., Fox, Fox Sports 1), but the mind games already are well under way.
The Galaxy, taking the lead in psychological warfare being waged between the clubs, have erected billboards and posters in the area around the facility, something which is sure to further enliven the impending matchup between the arch-rivals.
“I didn’t see them because I didn’t go by the stadium,” the Galaxy’s Sebastian Lletget said, “but I did see them on social media and stuff. I thought it was a good touch. I thought it was funny.
“That gets us going. It’s good for the city, man. Even though they’re probably a little bitter about it, it’s good. It’s good spite.”
Lletget also said the Galaxy may have a slight edge on their city rivals, given that the five-time MLS Cup champions have yet to lose in the series (2-0-2) and won the last meeting, 3-2 on July 19 at Dignity Health Sports Park, thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s hat trick.
“It’s all mental,” Lletget said. “I think with this game you can be as good as you want in the form that you’re in, but it’s all about the mental edge. I think we’re in a good place, especially when we come up against them.”
Lletget admitted he might be a little peeved at the Galaxy’s actions had he been a member of LAFC.
“I’m sure it builds up a little bit of anger that they probably already had,” he said. “But now it’s a little cherry on top. But even if they put them outside our stadium you’re like, ‘OK,’ give a little smirk and you save it for the game.
“It’s exciting. We love it, man. It’s going to be good for sure.”
Sunday’s game pits LAFC (19-3-4, 61 points), Major League Soccer’s runaway leaders for the Supporters Shield, symbolic of the league’s best record, against the Galaxy (13-11-2, 41 points), who desperately are trying to improve their postseason positioning. The game also is a marquee matchup of two of MLS’ most dynamic players – Ibrahimovic, who is third in the league with 20 goals, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela, who is first with 26. Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez is second with 21.
Ibrahimovic insists he pays little, if any, attention to the scoring race.
“Nah,” he said. “I try to help my team to score as much as possible. He does the same thing. That’s our job, to score goals and create chances as a striker. One week one scores more. The other week the other scores more.
“It’s all about the continuity during the whole season.”
Galaxy head coach Guillermo Schelotto said having two such talented players on the same field is a treat for those watching Sunday’s much-anticipated showdown.
“The truth is it’s good,” he said. “Maybe as a coach we suffer whether for or against, but for the spectacle of it it’s fantastic to have two players of that caliber.”
First-year Galaxy General Manager Dennis te Kloese didn’t reveal if he was proficient at math while growing up – “To be honest, I think you must be somewhat engaged with numbers,” he said with a laugh – but he certainly has done his share of numbers crunching this season.
Te Kloese, abiding by MLS’ strict financial guidelines for roster building, has managed to bring in the likes of defenders Diego Polenta and Giancarlo Gonzalez and midfielders Joe Corona and Cristian Pavon, among others, and remain under the salary cap of just over $4 million.
“I remember years ago there were a lot of rules and restrictions, a lot of things that you need to be aware of before making any moves or any substantial changes,” he said. “I think overall I feel the league has evolved so much, which also means there are more things to be aware of rule-wise and any procedure of changing.
“But the rules are what they are and I’m trying; I’m working on what we can do. So far we’ve gone through a lot of different rule sets to be able to get where we’re at.
“I think it’s a work that needs a little bit more time and progress, obviously.”
Te Kloese admitted league rules regarding player acquisitions can be a little difficult to digest.
“Sometimes there are different ways to get things done,” he said. “There’s also things that probably are hard to explain, like the GAM (general allocation money) and TAM (targeted allocation money). Those are maybe the little things that maybe the league can make more accessible, but it is what it is and you have to get through it if needed.
“Sometimes you wish it would be more fluid or fluent to get something done, but in the end it is what it is. You have to respect how it works, and the rules are there for a reason.
“Without going into some negative or whatever,” he went on, “it’s more of what can we do or what can I do to make the club better? There are certain rules and regulations you have to work with, and that’s fine.”
Te Kloese said his introduction to MLS machinations has been eye-opening, but in a good way.
“I think it’s very rewarding,” he said. “I specifically chose the opportunity to work here with a club which has a great history. A lot of positives not only here in the United States but outside.“Professional and personally, it’s been very, very positive. I’m very thankful for the opportunity and the trust they’ve given me.”