You’ve lived long enough to hear the phrase “throw the records out when these two meet.” It’s usually the last ditch of some production team trying to gloss up a rivalry game that’s no longer much of a rivalry. No, I’m not thinking of Bears-Packers, you charlatan! But it’s meant to convey some time of matchup that’s supposed to transcend mere records or current form. That it’ll mean so much to the fans and players, that the worse team will rise to something they haven’t been previously to challenge a suddenly jittery favorite.
When it comes to LAFC facing LA Galaxy, best known as El Tráfico, it’s not only the records you have to throw out. It’s tactics, logic, sanity, and pretty much every strand of what you know about soccer. These two teams hurl themselves at each other headlong, and after about 15 or 20 minutes or so there isn’t an attack plan or careful build-up so much as a lacrosse game played by drunken monkeys. There are goals galore, always a fight or two, and drama out the ass.
Their first meeting in the MLS Playoffs was no different. Both of these teams have concentrated their budget almost entirely on their attack, which truly shows when they become so bloodthirsty to beat their crosstown rival that the word “defending” can only be pronounced in Charlie Brown’s teacher voice. Which means LAFC took the lead twice, and immediately handed it back twice, because holding a lead and calming things down is for nerds. All of it played before a cacophonous rabble.
Their hope was to score late enough that there wouldn’t be time for them to spit it back. Step up Chicho Arango:
One of MLS’s problems is that there are so few games with stakes. With 14 playoff teams, there just isn’t a ton of urgency to the regular season. Too many games pass as a kickabout on a summer day.
And one of the reasons I, and many others, couldn’t hook ourselves into the league for years is that there was no explosion of goals. Soccer is goals. Soccer is the release of goals. Our reaction to goals. For a long time, you’d turn on an MLS game and see a half-empty stadium and polite applause for a goal from some suburban dad with an ice cream bar spilling onto his golf shirt. It wasn’t the raw emotion and fervor we’ve watched elsewhere. It didn’t feel like what the sport is. It was play-acting.
But thanks to the construction of a host of soccer-specific stadiums that have the fans closer to the field, and more passionate fanbases around the league, and the noise those two things can combine to make, we get that explosion. We get that sea of humanity that seems to turn into one teeming blob after a goal. It looks and sounds how it’s supposed to. We just need more games that bring the passion and urgency to really let it off the leash.
Watch the beer sprout up like geysers all over The 3252 at a last-minute winner. Watch the arms flail. Hear the wall of sound. Soccer can sound and feel here like it does everywhere else in the world. MLS just needs to give it more reason to.