It’s not often teams start a rivalry without ever playing a game. But that’s been happening in Los Angeles since the newest MLS team was announced. The rivalry, temporarily being hailed as El Tráfico, will see the LA Galaxy get a chance to do something special – beat a team that only existed on paper a few short years ago.
These particular noisy neighbors reside just 12 miles away – the closest distance of any two clubs in Major League Soccer – and they’re looking to trouble the five-time MLS Cup champions at StubHub Center (noon, FOX).
“It’s really starting to build,” Jorgen Skjelvik told CoG after training on Thursday. “It’s a big game for the league, the city and for both teams. It’s going to be a great fight and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun.”
The game, sold-out for the past few weeks, could see more than 28,000 Angelinos for the clash of the two sides. And with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s likely inclusion on the Galaxy’s roster, the auxiliary press-box will be open as well – the 36-year old Swede drawing worldwide media and fan attention.
The Galaxy (1-1-1) are still battling some uncertainty when it comes to their available players. All three Designated Players are still a question mark for head coach Sigi Schmid and even their newest signing – Zlatan Ibrahimovic – doesn’t have the fitness to go 90-minutes.
Romain Alessandrini, and brothers Giovani and Jona dos Santos are all recovering from hamstring issues but were training with the club on Friday. Defender Michael Ciani, who suffered a groin injury, was also training on Friday.
LAFC (2-0-0), coming off of three weeks with no games, will be looking to carry their energetic start to the season through their first game in Los Angeles. And youngster Diego Rossi and veteran Carlos Vela are likely to put the Galaxy on their heels throughout the night.
“They’re an energetic team that likes to press with their front group and put you under pressure,” Schmid said. “They don’t take a lot of risks in the back. They’re comfortable sitting back and counter-attacking. He (Bob Bradley) has done well.”
And unlike the Galaxy, LAFC should be able to start the same players they have been starting since their first game. Without injuries to slow their ability to gel, some even have the visitors as favored. Afterall, they have scored six goals in two games and allowed just one in return.
However, in a young season, it’s easy to put too much emphasis on a team’s early form – the Galaxy included.
But what is for sure is that this game will mean something different – something more important, and Schmid agrees.
“The result means more, the outcome means more, and the atmosphere may be greater, but it’s the same game,” he said. “Our preparations are the same.
“It’s a unique opportunity because it’s the first inner-city game between the two teams. From that standpoint, it has a special quality, but as a player that’s what you live for, to play in games like that.”
The Galaxy will look to the return of their captain, Ashley Cole as a positive step. Ola Kamara is returning from scoring a hat-trick with Norway on the international break, and the Galaxy will have Chris Pontius and Perry Kitchen fully available – they were question marks going into the Vancouver game.
And if the club was looking for a Hollywood ending, Ibrahimović will be biding his time on the bench, ready to be used if the Galaxy need him.
Everything seems to be in place. The stadium will be full, both sides have some good offensive talent, and the Galaxy have a not-so-secret weapon who’s scored over 500 goals in his career. In terms of spectacle, pageantry and passion, this first battle for LA will be can’t-miss viewing.