LOS ANGELES — Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup game is the 19th version of El Tráfico since LAFC joined MLS in 2018. It’s also the second-consecutive year that the Open Cup’s Round of 16 pits them against each other. In fact, no two MLS teams have played against each other more in that time. They’ll face one another at least 4 times this year, maybe as many as 8 times. They may know each other better than any other team does, but the gap between the two has never felt greater.
LAFC are at the top of the Western Conference standings with 25 points, the most by any defending MLS champion after 12 matches, battling in multiple competitions with their eyes on trophies. Meanwhile, LA Galaxy are at the bottom of their conference with 9 points, one of their worst starts in club history, battling on multiple fronts within their team and against fans who have lost faith in their club. LAFC are a team built from talent that is learning to spread their individual glory in favor of broader team gains. LA Galaxy are a team with individual strengths, but collective failure, still learning to work towards a singular goal (pun intended).
To reach this stage in the Open Cup, LAFC sent a young side, one with eight teenagers in the starting lineup, along with 38-year-old backup goalkeeper Eldin Jakupović, to play against Monterey Bay FC. It was Jakupović who not only was the hero making two saves during the resulting shootout, but also the one buried his own penalty kick.
LA Galaxy advanced to the Round of 16 after their 3-1 win over Seattle Sounders FC in the Round of 32 at Dignity Health Sports Park on May 10. Memo Rodríguez collected a brace as a substitute in the second half and Julián Aude scored his first career goal for the Galaxy.
Likely, head coach Steve Cherundolo will play a slightly altered version of his first-team lineup after resting many of his usual starters in their regular season match against San Jose last Saturday for several reasons. One, they are playing at home with a known turf quality unlike in the previous round. Two, they have a week to recover before their next match – the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final in Léon, Mexico. Third, there’s a trophy within reach. The win would also guarantee a place in the 2024 CONCACAF Champions League. And finally, perhaps most important, it’s against their most vocal rivals.
For LA Galaxy, this is perhaps their biggest opportunity to win a title this season, and with it, force a legitimacy to their seemingly stubborn stagnancy, perhaps even boost their confidence enough to spur more productivity in the MLS season. Last year, the Galaxy knocked LAFC out of the tournament in the same stage.
One thing is for certain, you should pay attention because El Tráfico never fails to entertain.