“We are the city team
CARSON, Calif. — What many saw coming for a while, unless you actively tried to ignore it, has finally come to pass.
Los Angeles is officially Black and Gold.
Since entering Major League Soccer in 2018, LAFC has been the constant annoying neighbor of LA Galaxy, the most successful club in league history. It was quickly apparent that they were going in opposite directions in recent years – with newcomers approaching trophies and City’s original team further and further away from the idea of winning a sixth MLS Cup.
But despite so many accolades LAFC has garnered on its journey to becoming one of the league’s premier franchises, one thing still weighed heavily on the Black and Gold: They hadn’t beat the Galaxy on the street.
On Sunday, with all eyes on El Trafico, LAFC put those demons to rest with a chaotic 3-2 win at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“This is definitely a gift for the fans,” said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo. “3252 [LAFC’s supporters group] and the rest of our community, the family at LAFC, have done such an amazing job over the first five seasons and it’s been a long time coming.
This fan base has put on a show in the stands as the Galaxy support groups continue their boycott and disapproval of the front office. What is usually a boisterous crowd in Carson, led by chants from the Angel City Brigade, LA Riot Squad and others, instead became what appeared to be a home game for LAFC. The emptiness of drums and noise from the host’s fan section paved the way for “visiting” fans to set the soundtrack for the day.
From the start, the chants “We are Los Angeles” and “LA is Black and Gold” just sounded a little different. A sea of black taking enemy territory as banners calling for the removal of Galaxy President Chris Klein and Technical Director Jovan Kirovski flew laps over the stadium.
One couldn’t try to paint a more accurate picture of the stark contrast between the two Los Angeles teams.
Einem is the reigning MLS Cup champion and Supporters’ Shield winner and remains undefeated this season 5-0-2 while just two wins away from his second CONCACAF Champions League final in three years to play. The other is winless this season at 0-4-3, ranked 13th in the West, and handling a crisis seeks to dismiss it as just noise.
The week leading up to El Trafico is always intense, but Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney seemed to reach a turning point a few days before the game when asked about the club’s current perception and it may be the lowest point in franchise history.
“It’s total bullshit*** to me, but people can have their opinions. It’s noise,” he said. “The most important thing for us is to get rid of the noise. Don’t care what anyone thinks, don’t care what anyone says. It really doesn’t matter who shows up at the stadium. We love our fans, we want them to be there and support us. But what counts for us is that we have to deliver on the pitch.”
To Vanney’s credit, the Galaxy may have played their best game of the season on Sunday…but they still lost. And he, as a player in the original 1996 Galaxy roster, is the first to know it won’t be enough.
Due to its rich past, expectations are always high here. The fans demand transparency (and hope for victories) and don’t get it, which is the premise of the boycott. Small, in the eyes of supporters, is public enemy number one, and until he is held accountable nothing seems to change. The “noise” grew so loud this week that he was forced to send a letter to fans pledging to “step aside” if the club fail to meet their targets this year.
His goal is to make the playoffs and advance. He didn’t say he won the MLS Cup or the Supporters’ Shield. Maybe because even he knows that’s a long shot. But that goal comes in handy considering the playoff field has expanded to nine out of 13 teams per conference this season.
If they can’t break the top 9 in the west with players like Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Riqui Puig, then he shouldn’t be the only one moving on.
“We’re literally in a business that’s about results,” Chicharito said after the loss. “And we didn’t win.”
You can earn moral victories by outperforming LAFC in certain ways, but these don’t lead to victories. For years the narrative has been moving in the same direction where they put up a good fight with black and gold but ultimately fall short. It only happened on the road in last year’s Western Conference semifinals, where the Galaxy netted a late equalizer and pushed for the winner before LAFC found it in injury time to eliminate their rivals from the playoffs for a second time.
But the Galaxy, which finishes fourth this season, hosts and wins a playoff game and then puts up a good fight in a losing effort, is part of the process of transforming the club Vanney alluded to.
How the mighty have fallen.
Meanwhile, the new Kids on the Block have become a role model for MLS teams to follow in terms of player recruitment, development, connecting with fans and building success. And now they finally have that victory over the galaxy on the road that has eluded them so far. Black and Gold faithful chanted “this is our house” as the stadium was cleared after the game.
“I feel like we’ve shown many times that we’re better than them,” said LAFC star Carlos Vela, the all-time El Trafico leading scorer, who bagged a pair on Sunday. “I hope that after this one we can win more and show that we’re the team in town every time we play LA Galaxy.”
“I think the league’s loudest fan block just got a little louder,” Cherundolo added.
The only sound you hear from the LAFC side is celebrations. As the numerous buses full of arriving fans left the stadium, beeping cars followed them while other fans waved their scarves all the way down to the main street in front of Dignity Health Sports Park.
“It’s time we took over this stadium,” one of them announced.
It’s not too hard to spot the differences here. Just a week ago, Vanney said Galaxy’s 3-0 loss in Houston was “disrespectful to our brand” after two of his veteran players were foolishly sent off.
Maybe reputation was the right word for it. Because despite the track record, the Galaxy’s brand is pretty clear at the moment – they’re playing second fiddle to LAFC.