By Don Wanlass
For decades, the best sports rivalry in Los Angeles has been USC versus UCLA.
Back in the 1960s and early 70s, even their track meets were must-see events and there is still nothing like the cardinal and gold against the powder blue and gold in the Rose Bowl or Coliseum every November, no matter what the records are at the time.
The Lakers and Clippers can’t compare, although that could change in a couple of weeks if they end up facing off in an NBA playoff series. For years, the Lakers dominated the rivalry, treating the Clippers like a pest-like little brother.
Lately, the Clippers have returned the favor, but eight years of dominance doesn’t equal 30 years of dominance.
The Dodgers have a similar rivalry with the Angels. They look down on their neighbor to the south. The fans don’t like each other, but the rivalry stirs more passion among fans than it does the players.
The same holds true with the Kings and the Ducks in the National Hockey League. The fans don’t like each other, but the players don’t seem as passionate. It’s just another divisional rivalry, like with the San Jose Sharks.
But the two Los Angeles teams in Major League Soccer are putting together a rivalry that could match USC-UCLA in passion. Four years into the rivalry, it already has a name, El Trafico, Spanish for the traffic, which refers to L.A.’s freeway conditions and the fact that the teams’ home stadiums are 13 miles away from each other on the Harbor (110) Freeway.
The rivalry is way more intense than the previous rivalry between the Galaxy and Chivas USA. The Galaxy never saw Chivas USA as a threat to them. They were the established team with MLS title to show for it.
Although they shared the same stadium, the Galaxy always outdrew Chivas and the two franchises marketed themselves to different audiences.
Not LAFC and the Galaxy.
When LAFC started, the Galaxy was trying to rebuild the team and brand. Landon Donovan and David Beckham had retired and the Galaxy was no longer among the top teams in the league.
LAFC burst on the scene as the bold, brash newcomer building their own new stadium and going after L.A. soccer fans who didn’t want to drive to Carson to see a game.
The teams’ first meeting in 2018 was epic. LAFC was playing its third game ever. The young upstarts jumped off to a 3-0 lead, an insurmountable lead in soccer most of the time.
But the Galaxy inserted newcomer Zlatan Ibrahimovic into the lineup and he scored twice in the last 30 minutes of the game, leading a comeback that saw the Galaxy win, 4-3. The next two games were tied.
In the first meeting in 2019, Ibrahimovic scored three goals, LAFC’s Carlos Vela scored twice and the Galaxy won 3-2.
LAFC’s first win in the rivalry didn’t come until the 2019 playoffs. The two teams met in the semifinals of the Western Conference playoffs and LAFC finally managed to win, 5-3.
The rivalry now sits at 5-3-3 after the Galaxy won the first meeting of the year, 2-1, at Dignity Health Sports Park May 8.
Vela, who won the MLS Golden Boot Award for being the league’s top offensive player in 2019, couldn’t play because of an injury, but Diego Rossi, who won the award last year, was back in the lineup.
But the Galaxy played tough defense, withstood all but one attack from LAFC and won the game on a goal by Jonathan Del Santos on an expert feed from Javier “Encharito” Hernandez in the 80th minute.
Hernandez gave the Galaxy their first lead only 11 minutes into the game. Rossi tied the score in the 62nd minute, assisted by Corey Baird.
LAFC controlled the ball more than the Galaxy, took more shots than the Galaxy and had more shots on target than the Galaxy, but still lost. In fact, LAFC has never won in Carson.
The teams don’t play again this season until Aug. 28 when they meet at Banc of California Stadium. By then, crowd limits might be gone and you can experience a loud, packed stadium with all the passion a good soccer match can provide.
The teams also meet Oct. 3 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Be sure to check out the rivalry.
PLAY-IN TIME: Unless the Lakers all of a sudden go on a four-game winning streak, it looks like they will be forced to win at least one game in what the NBA is calling its Play-in Tournament.
The play-in games offer the ninth- and 10th-seeded teams a chance to sneak into the playoffs.
On May 18, the seventh and eighth seeds in each conference will play each other and the ninth and 10th seeds will play each other. The losers of the game between the ninth and 10th seeds go home. The winners plays the losers of the game between the seventh and eighth seeds.
The winner of that game becomes the eighth seed. The winners of the game between the seventh and eighth seed is the seventh seed. If you’re confused, join the club.
LeBron James thinks that whoever came up with the idea for the play-in tournament should be fired.
James is still nursing a sore ankle and he doesn’t need to be wasting his time playing in a play-in tournament game. But the Lakers probably will play Golden West in a seventh-meets-eighth game. If the Lakers win that game, they can rest for a few days before opening the playoffs, probably against Phoenix.
Phoenix has the second-best overall record in the league this season, but the Suns are actually a good matchup for the Lakers. They don’t have enough size on the front line to go up against James, Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond in a seven-game series.
That and Chris Paul always finds a way to lose in the playoffs.
The Clippers have already played their way into the playoffs. They will finish third or fourth in the Western Conference and will have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
A Lakers-Clippers playoff series is still a possibility and could come as early as the second round, if the Clippers hold on to third place in the west.
Both teams are starting to get their injured players healthy as they gear up for the playoffs, which start May 22.
If James is healthy, the Lakers have a good chance to repeat as NBA champions, because no one can beat a healthy James four times in seven games in a two-week time frame.
How good will the Lakers be if James is only 50% of his normal self is hard to guess. But first they have to win that play-in game.