The names on the marquee have changed, as has the location, but all eyes will still be fixated on the first clash between LAFC and the Galaxy.
Absent from the first El Trafico of 2020 are LAFC’s Carlos Vela, who chose to opt out of the MLS is Back Tournament, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who left the Galaxy in the offseason to play with AC Milan.
In two seasons, their personal scoring battle was an opening act in the main drama between the Galaxy and LAFC.
Vela scored seven goals and Ibrahimovic had eight.
Tonight, in the second round of Group F play, the local rivals meet (7:30 p.m., ESPN) with the winner securing bragging rights at least until they meet again.
“Rivalry games are huge for the fans as well, and not having fans here will take a little bit of atmosphere out of the game,” Galaxy midfielder Sacha Kljestan said. “But I don’t think that the fire or the desire of the players will be at a lower level than usual.
“When you know you’re playing a derby game, you know you’re playing against your biggest rival, you have to give everything you have and even a little bit more …I’m excited to play my first derby game, it will be a little bit weird down here in Orlando, but it is what it is and we’re all trying to make the best of it right now.”
In the short history between the teams separated by approximately 12 miles, the Galaxy has yet to lose to LAFC in the regular season (2-0-3), but LAFC did topple the Galaxy 5-3 in the Western Conference playoffs last season.
On Monday, in the opening round of group play, the Galaxy suffered a 2-1 loss to the Portland Timbers and LAFC rallied from a 3-1 deficit against the Houston Dynamo to secure a point with a 3-3 draw.
It was the first game for both teams in four months. With that first 90-plus minutes out of the way, their rivalry takes center stage.
“Any game between LAFC and the Galaxy takes on extra importance,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. “When you haven’t played a game for months, the first game is an indication of where you are and I think there were positives. And we’re certainly really excited for the next match, especially with it being the Galaxy.”
Just like Ibrahimovic, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has taken part in some of the biggest derbies in the soccer at every stop of his career (Chivas, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, West Ham United and Sevilla).
“My feeling is to try to play all of the games like there were derbies,” Hernandez said. “All the teams I’ve played with, they’ve had important derbies. I understand that, in my mind, I try to play my last match like it was a derby, I try to do my best and do whatever I can and whatever I think is the best in that moment to help my team.
“It is a very important match and we’re going to go and give our best. The important thing is we need to get a win.”
Hernandez scored the Galaxy’s only goal in Monday’s loss. Meanwhile, LAFC looked to be just fine without Vela, with Bradley Wright-Phillips, Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez scoring.
The performance of that dangerous trio against a much-maligned Galaxy back line will go a long way toward determining the winner.
The Galaxy had two lapses defensively against Portland and the Timbers made them pay, scoring in the 59th and 66th minutes.
“With no Vela there, it is an impact on the team, but they still have good players,” Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said. “They can do it very well too. They have other players, really good team and we have to be worried about LAFC, not just about Vela not on the pitch.”