In the second El Trafico of the season, as they welcome a resurgent LA Galaxy to the Banc of California Stadium on Thursday night, LAFC have the perfect chance to prove that last weekend’s 5-1 loss to Minnesota United was a blip.
Los Angeles FC were just beginning to look like a proper team. The new kids on the block exploded onto the scene early on in the season, playing some beautiful, free-flowing football, scoring goals, blitzing teams with carving, cutting counter-attacks, showing vigour and verve with and without the ball, dominating games, creating chances, scoring goals and winning games.
Throughout the season, many had been waiting for the newbies to slip up. They couldn’t keep up the searing scoring rate, could they? Surely their inexperience would tell? The adrenaline would seep away, the excitement dissipate, the losses loom, wouldn’t they? Well, apparently not.
Or that was until last weekend. LAFC, after excelling in the period where they should have struggled with both Carlos Vela and Marco Urena at the World Cup, travelled north to face an improving and dangerous Minnesota United. They got a good hiding.
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The Loons dismantled their visitors with ease, carving open their defence time and time again, ultimately running out 5-1 winners. And deservedly so, as coach Bob Bradley conceded after the game. But even good teams have off days. It happens to the best. What is important is not the bad performance itself, but the response. For LAFC, that comes on Thursday night in one of the biggest games of the season, El Trafico part two.
LA Galaxy, resurgent under the inspiration of a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, unbeaten in their last seven matches, winning three-straight, arrive at the Banc of California stadium in good spirits. And so they should. Not only are they in excellent form, but this was one of the most remarkable wins of the season the first time around, with the Galaxy coming from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 thanks very much to their Swedish superhero. What better match, then, for LAFC to respond from a five-goal hammering?
LAFC must prove that Saturday’s embarrassment was just a blip on the radar, not an indication of the changing of the norm. That is crucial to the remainder of the season as they look to secure their place in the playoffs and give themselves home-field advantage, something that will be extremely important given that they are yet to lose in the comforts of their own home.
And there is good reason for believing that they can make such a response. There is the fact that it is at home. There is the intense passion that comes with a local derby, even one that is in its infancy like the LA derby. There is the return of Vela, who was seemingly rested for this very moment at the weekend.
This is the perfect opportunity for LAFC to put the past behind them, re-stake their claim as one of the best teams in MLS, and put a dent in one of their Western rivals. If they don’t take it, however, questions will be asked, questions that will be very difficult to answer indeed.