El Trafico: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, tailgates & Carlos Vela - inside LA's intense soccer derby

Zlatan Ibrahimovic Will Ferrell LA Galaxy LAFC Los Angeles El TraficoGetty/GOAL composite

Carlos Vela was ebullient.

"It feels great. I feel like we showed many times that we’re better than them," the Los Angeles FC talisman said in April 2023 after winning their third El Trafico in a row. "After this one, I hope we win more often here and show every time that we play LA Galaxy that we’re the team of this city."

The LA Galaxy troops clearly took that personally. They subsequently went out and won 2-0 when the teams met again in May of that year, with Riqui Puig stoking the ire of LAFC fans by taunting them in the style of Lionel Messi - Giorgio Chiellini went as far as calling Puig a "clown" for his antics.

Though it is a relatively new rivalry, the enmities are already deeply held and the bragging rights are no joke. GOAL takes a look at Los Angeles' intense soccer rivalry - El Trafico.

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LA Galaxy vs LAFC - El Trafico

El Trafico was born in 2018 when the two teams met for the first time in history and the game duly delivered for the sell-out crowd in Carson by producing a seven-goal thriller.

LAFC were new to Major League Soccer and upset the odds by taking a 3-0 lead away from home, with Vela pulling the strings.

However, The Galaxy never gave up and clawed two goals back, before new signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic produced a moment of magic to equalise. "LAFC have just been Zlatan'd," declared a breathless commentator after the Swede volleyed a goal from 40-plus yards.

Ibrahimovic added a second when he headed home an Ashley Cole cross and the spoils of the first ever El Trafico went to LA Galaxy as they won 4-3.

Since then, games between the cross-town LA rivals have followed similar patterns, with goals galore and no end to the drama, with an average of 4.4 goals a game across their first 19 meetings - an incredible number, which shows the no-holds-barred nature of the derby.

As of May 2023, LA Galaxy had enjoyed marginally more wins, but the tide has been turning in LAFC's favour in recent years and the Exposition Park upstarts will be eager to strengthen their hold on the city.

Supporters have really bought in to the rivalry culture, responding to the passion displayed on the field by the players. Tailgates before games are generally good natured with chants, food and drink, but you can tell that the competitiveness runs deep.

Indeed, LA Galaxy fans often tease Black and Gold fans with references to the defunct Chivas USA, which LAFC is perceived to have grown out of, while LAFC supporters jokingly refer to LA Galaxy as "Carson" due to the location of their stadium outside central LA.

With an increasing flow of stars following the likes of Ibrahimovic, Vela, Chiellini and Puig to MLS, the future of El Trafico certainly promises more exciting times.

LA Galaxy or LAFC - Who is more successful?

LA Galaxy have existed for longer and so have enjoyed greater success than Los Angeles FC.

In fact, at the beginning of 2023, LA Galaxy was the most successful team in MLS history, having won five MLS Cups and four Supporters' Shields.

CompetitionLA GalaxyLos Angeles FC
MLS Cup51
Supporters' Shield42
U.S. Open Cup20
Western Conference Play-off91
Western Conference82
CONCACAF Champions Cup10

Biggest El Trafico legends

Carlos Vela celebrate LAFC GalaxyGetty Images

Of course, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of the biggest legends to feature in El Trafico and the iconic striker scored nine goals in the fixtures, but that only makes him the second highest goalscorer in that context.

The all-time El Trafico top scorer is Carlos Vela, who has found the net 12 times in meetings between the two rivals.

The likes of Argentina international Christian Pavon and Uruguay international Diego Rossi have also shone in El Trafico, as have Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, Dejan Joveljic and Sebastian Lletget.

Why is it called El Trafico?

Games between Los Angeles FC and LA Galaxy are dubbed El Trafico.

The term is a play on the more common name for a football rivalry, El Clasico (The Classic in English), and the traffic congestion that LA is synonymous with.

Read more about the LA derby nickname.

Where is El Trafico played?

Dignity Health Sports Park LA Galaxy BMO Stadium LAFCGetty/GOAL composite

Games between LAFC and LA Galaxy are generally played at Dignity Health Sports Park, which is the home of The Galaxy, or BMO Stadium, which is LAFC's ground.

The iconic, 92,000-capacity Rose Bowl in Pasadena was selected to host El Trafico on July 4, 2023.

You can see where the two grounds are in the maps below.

Dignity Health Sports Park

Year built:2003

BMO Stadium

Year built:2018

Where to stay in LA for El Trafico

Los Angeles is full of places to stay for anyone travelling to the city for El Trafico, or indeed any event.

If you are going to a game in Dignity Health Sports Park, you may wish to find accommodation near Carson, while a place in Exposition Park would be ideal if you are going to BMO Stadium.

You can see an array of hotels, apartments and places to stay in LA in the map below.

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