In Los Angeles, Traffic Sucks. El Trafico Thrills.

It’s a bit of a lull these days on the Los Angeles sports scene.  The Dodgers and Angels are struggling toward next week’s All-Star break riddled with injuries, struggling to compete for wild card spots, and delivering far more inconsistent results than many fair-weather fans are inclined to accept.  The Lakers were blown out in their first Summer League game by the Miami Heat, and while they have performed admirably in the free agent market so far, actual games are months away.   Same is true of the Clippers, who continue to flirt with the somewhat self-destructive notion of bringing in James Harden to their circus in what will likely be their 25th and final season in downtown LA.

And in MLS, one team that has been missing their more successful years as part of the landscape in more congested areas is the LA Galaxy, who have been languishing near the bottom of the Western Conference table all season and in an increasingly empty and outdated Dignity Health Center near Carson.  Bluntly, the nearly 20-year-old facility has aged poorly, its proximity to trailer parks and the unimpresive Cal State Dominguez Hills dwarfed by the gleaming jewel that has risen adjacent to the Coliseum that serves as the home for the league’s current champion, LAFC.  The teams do have a strong rivalry, enough so that they had been set to open the 2023 campaign as one of the marquee matchups for the new Apple TV+ package.  Then, as the LOS ANGELES TIMES’ Kevin Baxter penned earlier this week, fate intervened that ultimately turned into an opportunity that was finally realized last night:

When a massive storm blew through Southern California last February, MLS determined it wasn’t safe to play the season-opening game between the Galaxy and LAFC at the Rose Bowl. But Tom Braun quickly discovered there was a silver lining ringing those dark, black rain clouds.

As the Galaxy’s senior vice president for soccer and business operations, it was Braun’s job to find an alternate date for the game in the most crowded MLS schedule in history. And less than two hours after the Galaxy announced the postponement, Braun had it: the game would be played on the Fourth of July.

LAFC wasn’t busy that day. St. Louis City, an MLS expansion team scheduled to play the Galaxy that night, agreed to move its game to September. And not only was the Rose Bowl available, but the city of Pasadena allowed the Galaxy to stage their traditional fireworks show at the stadium as well.

And for the Galaxy, it was a homecoming to an era where they were the market’s sole pro soccer team, and reached the MLS Cup final four times in their first eight years, eventually culminating in their first MLS championship in 2002.   Any sort of reminder to the team and their dwindling fan base that they were once the alpha dog of this derby was welcomed.  And for teams reliant upon a strong Latino fan base, unlike the preference of European fans for smaller, more intimate pitches that the league’s more recent stadiums have been, including both Dignity Health and BMO, the association with massive bowls to accommodate exceptionally large crowds is more the norm.

So its was hardly surprising that last night saw league history made, and the results were favorable for the one-time Rose Bowl-based team, as CNN reported early today:

The MLS has a new attendance record after 82,110 fans turned up to watch the Los Angeles derby between LA Galaxy and LAFC.

Dubbed “El Tráfico” – a nod to the famous El Clásico rivalry between Spanish soccer clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid and the fact that the two LA teams are separated by just 11 miles of congested highway – the match has become one of the MLS’ fiercest rivalries.

The derby game smashed the previous MLS record which had been set in 2022. Charlotte FC’s first ever game saw 74,479 spectators flock to the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte to witness their team face the Galaxy.

Fans at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday were treated to a tight game as LA Galaxy took a 2-1 victory thanks to a winner from former Barcelona player Riqui Puig.

I love pressure, I love playing these games, I love playing derbies against big teams. And I’m honestly very happy,” Puig said post-match, per the MLS.

“I think every player plays soccer to play these games, these stadiums, to have 82,000 people watching you.

“I don’t play for money, I play for these experiences,” the 23-year-old added.

So at least for one night, the Galaxy got the cheers and a desperately needed three points as they compete in the season’s second half for one of the 16 playoff spots in the 29-team league.  There’s still time, but with an upcoming hiatus for a tournament the season’s farther along at this point than the calendar otherwise suggests.  And as for LAFC, the playoffs are all but assured, but they currently sit three points behind the conference’s leader.  The very same St. Louis FC expansion team that graciously moved their match to the fall to allow history to be made.
The Galaxy likely won back some fans and picked up some new ones last night.  I have a hunch that LAFC will be added to that list when the rescheduled St. Louis match finally takes place.  After all, El Trafico is a rivalry.  It’s not a war.

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