CARSON, Calif. — What many have seen coming for a while, unless you actively tried to ignore it, has finally happened.
Los Angeles is officially Black and Gold.
Since entering Major League Soccer in 2018, LAFC has constantly been the annoying neighbor to the LA Galaxy, which is the most successful club in league history. It was evident quickly that they were trending in opposite directions in recent years — the newcomers inching toward trophies and the city’s original team straying further away from the idea of winning a sixth MLS Cup.
But for as many accolades that LAFC were able to compile en route to becoming one of the marquee franchises in the league, one thing still weighed heavily on the Black and Gold: they hadn’t beaten the Galaxy on the road.
Sunday, with all eyes on El Trafico, LAFC put those demons to rest with a chaotic 3-2 win at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“It’s definitely a gift for the fans,” said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo. “3252 [LAFC’s supporters group] and the rest of our community, family at LAFC has done such amazing work over the first five seasons, and this has been a long time coming.”
That fan base put on a show in the stands while the Galaxy supporters 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, L.A. Riot Squad and others was instead converted into what seemed like a home game for LAFC. The void of drums and noise from the host’s supporters section paved the way for the “visiting” fans to set the soundtrack for the day.
From the opening whistle the “We are Los Angeles” and “L.A. is Black and Gold” chants just hit a little different. A sea of black taking over enemy territory as a banner calling for the removal of Galaxy president Chris Klein and technical director Jovan Kirovski flew laps above the stadium.
You couldn’t try to paint a more fitting image of the vast contrast between the two Los Angeles teams.
One is the reigning MLS Cup champs and Supporters’ Shield winners and remains undefeated this season at 5-0-2 while being a pair of wins away from playing in its second CONCACAF Champions League final in three years. The other is winless so far this season at 0-4-3, in 13th place of the West, and dealing with a crisis its trying to brush off as just noise.
The week leading into El Trafico is always intense, but Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney seemed to reach a breaking point a few days ahead of the match when asked about the current perception of the club and it perhaps being the lowest point in franchise history.
“For me, it’s total bulls***, but people can have their opinions. It’s noise,” he said. “For us, the most important thing is get rid of the noise. Don’t care what anybody thinks, don’t care what anybody says. Don’t honestly care who shows up in the stadium. We love our fans, want them to be there and support us. But for us what matters is we have to deliver on the field.”
To Vanney’s credit, the Galaxy might’ve played their best game of the season Sunday … but they still lost. And he, as a player on the original 1996 Galaxy roster, is the first to know that isn’t going to cut it.
Because of their rich past, the expectations there are always high. The fans are demanding transparency (and hoping for wins) and not getting it, which is the premise of the boycott. Klein is public enemy No. 1 in the eyes of the supporters, and as long as he isn’t held accountable, things do not seem like they’ll change. The “noise” got so loud this week that it forced him to send a letter to the fans pledging to “step aside” if the club falls short of their goals this year.
The goal, according to him, is making and advancing in the playoffs. He didn’t say it was winning MLS Cup nor the Supporters’ Shield. Maybe because even he knows that’s far-fetched. But that goal is awfully convenient considering the playoff field has been expanded to nine out of 13 teams per conference this season.
If they can’t crack the top nine in the West with players like Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Riqui Puig, then he shouldn’t be the only one to move along.
“We are in a business about results, literally,” Chicharito said after the loss. “And we haven’t won.”
They can take moral victories of out-performing LAFC in certain ways, but those don’t translate into wins. For years the narrative has been moving in the same direction of them giving the Black and Gold a good fight but ultimately falling short. It happened just last year in the Western Conference semifinals on the road, where the Galaxy got a late equalizer and were pressuring for the winner before LAFC ended up finding it in stoppage time to eliminate its rivals from the playoffs for the second time.
But the Galaxy finishing in fourth that season, hosting and winning a playoff game then putting up a good fight in a losing effort is part of the process of reshaping the club that Vanney has alluded to.
How the mighty have fallen.
Meanwhile, the new kids on the block have become a model for MLS teams to follow in terms of player recruitment, development, connection with the fans and building success. And now they finally have that win over the Galaxy on the road that had been eluding them. The Black and Gold faithful chanted “this is our house” as the stadium cleared after the game.
“I feel like we showed many times we are better than them,” said LAFC star Carlos Vela, the El Trafico all-time leading scorer who bagged a pair on Sunday. “I hope after this one we can win more often here and show every time we play against LA Galaxy we are the team of the city.”
“I think the loudest fan block in the league just got a little louder,” Cherundolo added.
The only noise you hear from the LAFC side is celebrating. As the numerous buses packed with visiting fans made their way out of the stadium, cars followed along beeping while other fans waved their scarves all the way down to the main road in front of Dignity Health Sports Park.
“It’s about time we took over this stadium,” one of them proclaimed.
Not too hard to spot the differences here. Just a week ago, Vanney said the Galaxy’s 3-0 loss in Houston was “disrespectful to our brand” following a game where two of his veteran players were red carded in foolish ways.
Maybe the correct word to use there was reputation. Because despite the winning history, the Galaxy’s brand is pretty clear right now — they are playing second-fiddle to LAFC.