Los Angeles two teams meet in the MLS playoffs on Thursday night. Their relationship is still developing but is based on older rivalries in the city
Fans of two soccer clubs separated by 12 miles of freeway forged an intense rivalry before one of them ever took the field. In May 2017 three months before Los Angeles Football Club signed even one player a mural in the new clubs colors appeared in downtown Los Angeles. It depicted men and women of various ages, ethnicities and professions dancing, playing and celebrating soccer while flanking the new clubs emblem: the initials LA in an Art Deco motif, with a wing serving as the As crossbar.
One week later, vandals painted a GA in capitals to the left of the crest and an XY in capitals to the right, causing the mural to read GALAXY, in a reference to the club that had ruled the citys soccer scene for years, LA Galaxy.
When the teams meet on Thursday night in the second round of the MLS Cup playoffs, the rivalry known as El Trfico will reach a singular level 15 years after the league tried and failed to foster a similar rivalry in Los Angeles.
In 2004, MLS granted an expansion franchise to Jorge Vergara, who owned one of Mexicos most popular teams: CD Guadalajara, also known as Chivas. The new club would be known as Chivas USA, with a uniform and crest imitating their Mexican parent, and would begin play in 2005.
Vergara and the league saw a mutual benefit. Vergara wanted Chivas USA to expand Guadalajaras brand among the nine million Latinos mostly of Mexican descent living in the five counties surrounding Los Angeles. For MLS, Vergaras investment not only represented an opportunity to cultivate Latino fans, it also provided fresh capital to a desperate league. At the time, only three parties owned MLSs 10 clubs, and the league nearly went bankrupt before eliminating two teams in 2002.
Vergara focused on signing Latino players. Of Chivas USAs 10 selections in the 2004 expansion draft, four of the first five were Mexican-Americans or Mexican nationals. Vergara also signed two former Guadalajara stars, midfielder Ramon Ramirez and goalkeeper Martin Zuniga, both past their prime.
After compiling the leagues worst record in its first season, Chivas USA hired Bob Bradley as their head coach the same Bob Bradley who now guides LAFC. In Bradleys lone season before becoming the United States national coach, Chivas USA earned the first of four consecutive playoff berths. In 2007, they finished top of the Western Conference. In the 2009 playoffs, the Galaxy beat Chivas USA on the way to the MLS Cup final.
But two factors worked against Chivas USA. First, the team played and trained at the Galaxys suburban stadium in Carson while staff shared office space. Second, by trying to appeal to CD Guadalajaras fans, Vergara risked alienating Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who rooted for other clubs, not to mention the myriad other Latino communities in Los Angeles.