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Soccer

Galaxy and LAFC will share more than hot streaks going into Saturday

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- THURSDAY, JULY 26, 2018: LA Galaxy midfielder Romain Alessandrini, left, an
Galaxy midfielder Romain Alessandrini, left, and forward Giovani dos Santos, right, battle LAFC midfielder Eduard Atuesta for control of the ball in the second half at the Banc of California Stadium on July 26, 2018. The game ended tied 2-2.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

When the Los Angeles Football Club entered MLS last season, it knew it would start out sharing Southern California with the Galaxy, the oldest and most accomplished team in league history.

Thirteen months later the sharing appears to be over. Each club has carved out its own distinct fan base and those followings are so large that when the teams kick off Saturday in stadiums just 12 miles apart, more than 47,000 people will be watching from the stands.

“Soccer’s past the tipping point in America and in this market,” LAFC President Tom Penn said. “With the momentum of our team, the momentum of the Galaxy and the momentum of MLS, we just see a new, fresh embracing of this product. And this is the perfect example.

“Both teams can play on the same night [and] fill the buildings up. It’s great. It should happen in Los Angeles.”

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It hasn’t happened before, though. The teams played home games twice on the same night last season and drew well, yet didn’t fill both stadiums. And when now-defunct Chivas USA shared a city and a stadium with the Galaxy, it topped 19,000 in average attendance once — and drew just 7,063 a game in its final season.

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This time both teams go into Saturday’s games riding hot streaks.

The Galaxy (4-1-0), who expect a crowd of more than 25,000 for their game with the Philadelphia Union, are unbeaten at home and off to their best start since 2010 behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has four goals and an assist. Against a Philadelphia team that has won three straight they will be searching for a complement to Ibrahimovic, who missed two games with a heel injury yet has had a hand in more than half the team’s goals.

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LAFC, which will sell out its 22,000-seat stadium, has the league’s best record at 5-0-1 and has scored an MLS-record 19 goals through its first six games, seven coming from Carlos Vela. Add in six by teammate Diego Rossi and the two LAFC forwards have combined for more scores than any of the other 23 MLS teams.

The team is also the league’s most balanced, entering the weekend tied for third in fewest goals allowed with five. But it will face an athletic FC Cincinnati team without forward Adama Diomande (hamstring) and probably missing midfielder Lee Nguyen (calf) as well.

“Any time you get off to a hot start, especially in L.A. sports, it kind of energizes the city,” Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham.

The teams are also benefiting from an unusually empty local calendar. With the Ducks, Kings and Lakers all missing the postseason for the first time together since the NHL lockout in 2004-05 and the Clippers opening the NBA playoffs on the road, the Dodgers are the only other local team that will be playing at home Saturday.

LAFC coach Bob Bradley, who once coached the U.S. national team before a crowd of more than 93,000 at the Rose Bowl, isn’t sure that matters.

“Los Angeles is a football city,” he said. “The passion of the supporters on both sides drives things.”

Certainly the market has proven big enough for both teams. LAFC sold out all 18 MLS home games last year yet the Galaxy also saw its attendance rise 10% to 24,444, fourth best in MLS. The league experienced similar growth in 2015 when New York City FC began playing at Yankee Stadium, across the Hudson River from the New York Red Bulls.

Although just two teams drew better than NYCFC, which averaged nearly 30,000 a game that season, attendance also increased at Red Bulls Arena. A year later it topped 20,000 for the first time since the Red Bulls’ inaugural season in 1996.

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But those teams didn’t play in the same city on the same night.

“It’s a great statement to have two clubs that are 10 miles from each other and we’re going to have close to 50,000 tickets sold for two soccer games in Los Angeles,” Galaxy President Chris Klein said. “We still have a long way to go but to me that shows how far this league has come.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com | Twitter: @kbaxter11


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