The first signs of a burgeoning Southern California sports rivalry came from a splat of paint.
Last month, hours after Jiovanny Lopez and Diego Mendoza finished a mural on a brick building in the Pico Union neighborhood, one welcoming Mexican national team star Carlos Vela to the fledgling Los Angeles Football Club, the artwork was defaced with splashes of blue, white and gold paint — the colors of the cross-town rival Galaxy.
Months earlier, vandals working in black and gold — LAFC’s colors — had defaced a Galaxy mural at Hawthorne Memorial Park.
The spray-can shenanigans quickly lit up social media and hardened enmities on both sides — not that those emotions needed much heat to bring to a boil.
And the teams haven’t even played each other yet.
That will change Saturday when LAFC rumbles with the Galaxy on its turf at StubHub Center in Carson. Like most epic duels, this one is scheduled for high noon.
The lines separating the two couldn’t be more clearly drawn.
The Galaxy is MLS royalty, one of the league’s original 10 franchises and winner of more titles and more games than any other team. The club of David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Bruce Arena and, now, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it’s refined, blue-blooded and aristocratic.
LAFC is the gritty upstart, its history only two games — and two wins — old. While the Galaxy lives in the suburbs, LAFC is from the inner city. The Galaxy wear white; LAFC often dresses in black.
And the fans on both sides embrace the differences.
For years Rafa Gomez supported Chivas USA, an MLS franchise that shared StubHub Center with the Galaxy before it was folded by the league following the 2014 season. But rather than switch his allegiance, Gomez waited more than three years for a new team to start playing.
“It's just too much bad blood with the Galaxy over the years,” he said. “I'm just not going to be a Galaxy fan.”
Matthew Entrekin, meanwhile, stuck with the Galaxy through the worst season in franchise history in 2017 but says success this year means nothing more than beating LAFC.
“The only thing that matters is we end the season in the standings above LAFC and that we beat them every time we compete against them,” he said. “I still want the wins. But I want wins against LAFC even more.”
LAFC fans, who insist they root for the only soccer club in the city of Los Angeles, have taken to mocking their rivals as the Carson Galaxy. Galaxy fans dismiss LAFC as “Chivas 2.0” after the failed franchise that had to die to give the new team life.
“You’re taking a failed expansion team and re-branding it down the street,” Entrekin said.
Even the two teams’ front offices have gotten involved. When the Galaxy learned LAFC would make only 100 tickets — the minimum number mandated by the league — available to visiting fans for the late July rivalry game at new Banc of California Stadium, they retaliated, limiting LAFC fans to 100 tickets for Saturday.
That won’t hurt attendance though. The game sold out more than a week ago and tickets were selling Wednesday for as much as $1,000 on the secondary market.
While cross-town matchups can be intense in any sport, in soccer they can be particularly fierce. The annual clashes between Wisla Krakow and Cracovia, who play less a half-mile apart in the Polish first division, have claimed the lives of so many fans the game has been dubbed “The Holy War.”
In England’s Merseyside Derby, named for the river that runs through the city shared by the Everton and Liverpool soccer clubs, local police once took legal action to get the kickoff moved up to limit the fans’ pregame drinking. They relented when Everton officials promised rival fans would be segregated in separate sections.
And in nearby Manchester, bouncers are posted outside pubs claimed by either Manchester City or Manchester United fans to keep people from entering wearing the colors of the other team. Try that after a USC-UCLA game.
The Galaxy-LAFC rivalry isn’t there yet — but it’s on its way, said LAFC midfielder Benny Feilhaber.
“It’s hard to compare our situation with those. But does it have the potential? Of course it has the potential,” he said.
Tradition isn’t the only thing missing from the L.A. rivalry though. The series also lacks a catchy title like “El Clasico,” the name given to the Spanish grudge match between Barcelona and Real Madrid and then stolen for the Galaxy-Chivas USA series, which was rarely classic in any language.
So, as with many projects in Hollywood, the game is going forward under a working title, “El Trafico’” — and like traffic it could soon become as much a part of the local ambience as sunshine, palm trees and earthquakes.
“It means so much to these fans,” LAFC defender Jordan Harvey said. “They are so pumped for this game. You can feel it. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.