Training Report

Notes from Training | Matchday 8

LAFC finishes preparations for the 22nd southern California derby with an eye on the past and laser focus on the 90 minutes ahead

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“Es un partido diferente, siempre lo es.”

“It's a different game, it always is.”

Six months ago, in mid-September, one of the two adversaries involved in the LAFC-Galaxy derby entered MLS’ greatest rivalry match in sharp form. 

The Galaxy had already beaten LAFC twice in 2023 - in MLS play and the U.S. Open Cup - while LAFC had won the other match. But entering their fourth and final meeting, with MLS playoff positioning very much on the line, the Galaxy stood unbeaten over their previous four matches, (2W-0L-2D) and were coming off two draws against conference powers St. Louis and Houston. Goals were flowing freely. The Galaxy had scored eight times over those four games.

LAFC, meanwhile, had lost three straight, including a home thrashing by Inter Miami that the whole world watched, and a listless 2-0 loss in Portland.

The Galaxy were still alive in the Western Conference playoff picture when Diego Fagundez put his foot into the ball to kick off that match on September 16, 2023. But they would be removed from the playoff picture by the end of the night.

It’s hard say who deserved the credit for LAFC’s dominant 4-2 win— although the more than 20,000 Black & Gold supporters who filled BMO Stadium probably earned most of it. Their energy, deafening at kickoff and for the two hours afterward, made victory for the home team seem predestined. LAFC won the first half 2-1, then duplicated that effort in the second to create the 4-2 score line at full time.

The outcome affected both teams. The Galaxy would win just one of their final seven games (1W-3L-3D) and finished second-to-last in the Western Conference.

LAFC, feeling the effects of the most challenging schedule in MLS history, would not score a goal over its next four games (across all competitions) but only conceded once in those four matches, went 0W-1L-3D in that span, then finished the regular season on a tear, going 2W-0L-1D in its last three games to spark a playoff run that ended in the MLS Cup final. 

All of which is to say, the form or the table position of these two teams will not matter when referee Jon Freemon blows his whistle at 4:40 p.m. on Saturday. 

“I think the fire is there no matter what,” LAFC defender Aaron Long said at the Friday media session following his team’s final pre-Galaxy practice. “It's burning at its hottest no matter what when you play this team. It doesn't matter where you're at in the season, what place you're in. That intensity is gonna be there, and that will to win is always gonna be there when you play these guys.”

The Galaxy have indeed been impressive so far in 2024, with three wins and three draws in six matches. LAFC has won two, lost three, and drawn one of its six matches against opposition that has been statistically sturdier than what their southern neighbors have faced. The Galaxy’s six opponents (Miami, San Jose, Nashville, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Seattle) have so far earned 1.08 points per game, collectively, while LAFC’s opponents (Seattle, Salt Lake, Kansas City, Minnesota, Nashville, and Colorado) have earned 1.35 points per game through the regular season’s first seven weeks. 

RSL and Minnesota – in third and fourth place in the Western Conference, respectively – have taken an average of 1.67 and two points from each game they have played. The Loons are tied with the Galaxy in that area.

But there’s a reason the Galaxy stand atop the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings. And that reason is good players. “Last year they didn't have much depth in the attack,” Cherundolo said, “depth meaning finding spaces in behind, the ability to run in behind with speed and one-v-one ability. That's changed. They've added that portion to their game … [and] have shown a lot of danger in the offensive end … They've gotten better. When you go out and transfer players in, that's usually what happens.”

Those incoming transfers include wingers Gabriel Pec of Brazil and Joseph Paintsil of Ghana—skilled veterans of Brazil’s and Europe’s top divisions—who have combined with the Galaxy’s attacking holdovers, Riqui Puig and Dejan Joveljic, to create what’s been the most productive attack in Major League Soccer in 2024. 

“They're dynamic,” Long said of newcomers Pec and Paintsil. “Galaxy has been good in possession the last couple of years … but I think those two add a little bit of a different wrinkle to their system. They can now beat you over the top in transition, go one-v-one against guys. They're very quick.”

Of Puig, the 24-year-old attacking midfielder who runs the show, Long added: “I think they're at their best when he's on the ball. They know that. I think he knows that … and he's been doing that this year for sure. He picks up the ball, he finds pockets, he knows how to run at the back line, and he's very good at the final pass.”

Rivalry games can “set you on a new path, for good or for bad,” Long added. Few players know that better than Hugo Lloris, the LAFC goalkeeper who played in dozens of derby matches during his 11 years with English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur. “It's not only about three points,” Lloris said, “it’s even more; it's about pride.

“I have played a few derbies in my career, in England and in France,” added the 37-year-old Frenchman, who has yet to concede a goal in the run of play in three home matches for LAFC this season. “I'm really excited to discover a new one, but I know what it means for the fans, for the football club. And psychologically, it's also an important moment in the season, you know, to confirm our good form at home ... When you win big games you can build on that for the future.”

“It's a different game, it always is,” LAFC midfielder Eduard Atuesta said in Spanish. Atuesta has played in 12 of the 21 LA derbies that have been contested to date, including LAFC’s first win over the Galaxy and its first ever playoff win, which both happened on the same October night in 2019. 

“They [Galaxy] remember in the past, winning games when we were at the top, and it happens the other way around too,” Atuesta said, “so I think it's a separate game. You come out with more desire, you come out with more nerve, you have to face it, you have to enjoy it and go out and win it. That's what the classics are for.

“Classics are meant to be won, with passion,” Atuesta added. “Since we arrived [in MLS], we came in very strong and that's why this rivalry was generated.”

The 26-year-old Colombian needs little introduction to this series, but he will be joined on Saturday by teammates like Lloris and defender Omar Campos who have never taken part in what’s often referred to as El Trafico. When Cherundolo was asked what he tells those newbies, the LAFC manager said: 

“It's hard to explain these games. I think everybody has their own feeling or experiences in a derby. Maybe there are different colors and different jerseys, different countries, different languages, but they all should feel the same once you're on the field. And for those who haven't experienced ours, they will, and it doesn't take much to catch up.”

LAFC continues its 2024 regular season on Saturday, April 6, with a home match against the Galaxy at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. PT. The game will be broadcast live on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV, FOX, and FOX Deportes; and on radio on 710 AM ESPN LA and 980 AM La Mera Mera (Spanish).

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