Even without the biggest names, El Tráfico continues to deliver

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LOS ANGELES — How does this always happen?

The best thing about rivalries is the atmosphere they produce, but sometimes the quality doesn’t live up to the billing. El Tráfico between LAFC and Los Angeles Galaxy has absolutely zero problem doing that. It actually exceeds expectations every single time. Doesn’t matter if it’s being played in downtown L.A. or down in Carson. Nor does it matter what stars are or aren't on the field.

It’s fitting that in a city where Hollywood scripts run the show, the twists and turns of this Clásico Angelino play out in dramatic fashion.

Saturday at Banc of California Stadium was the latest edition of the chaos. The teams traded blows until a Galaxy goal in the 86th minute secured a 3-3 draw, which undoubtedly felt like a loss for LAFC.

It was an absolute treat for soccer fans that delivered on the main stage for MLS Rivalry Week. And even without injured stars Carlos Vela and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, four of the six goals were scored by players making their debut in this rivalry.

“It was amazing,” said Galaxy forward Dejan Joveljić, who finished with a brace. “I want to say our fans were amazing. I also want to say our opponents’ fans were also good, but the atmosphere was amazing. I was really enjoying it.”

It’s impossible not to. The moments, both good and bad, surrounding this rivalry are endless. From the ghosts of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Andre Horta’s ill-advised pass back, to the 6-2 rout at the MLS is Back Tournament or the infamous 5-3 playoff matchup.

Something wild always seems to go down. LAFC’s Brian Rodríguez provided the euphoria this go-round, when time seemed to slow down a bit as he dribbled past three defenders to send Banc of California Stadium into pure hysteria with a goal of the year candidate.

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“A guy can’t carve through us like we’re cones in our box,” said Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney. “That just can’t happen. All of us will be watching that video for the next 20 years on highlight reels and that’s not a position that any of us would want to be in.”

Six minutes later Joveljić would net the equalizer. Two minutes after that, Rodríguez put the Black & Gold ahead again.

While some rivalry games tend to be a bit more conservative due to the magnitude, these games move at a video game pace. Like when you’re pushing just to see how much you can score in FIFA, defense be damned. And for some, the bright lights are what they feed off.

“These are the games that I’ve always grown up wanting to play,” said Galaxy defender Julian Araujo. “This is why we play football. It was an amazing atmosphere, our fans were there with us the 90 minutes.”

Through the two matchups with LAFC this season, the 20-year-old has been the best player on the field over 180 minutes. Not only has his physicality ramped up, his offensive output — playing a part in all three Galaxy goals Saturday — has been vital.

Dejan Joveljić (99) scored twice as the Galaxy left Banc of California Stadium with a point on Saturday. (Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images)
Dejan Joveljić (99) scored twice as the Galaxy left Banc of California Stadium with a point on Saturday. (Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images)

It’s the type of swag and confidence Zlatan used to bring to the fight, which clearly had lasting effects on some members of this team.

“In so many of these matches, we’ve had too many tough moments,” said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley. “Moments where we’ve played well and managed to just let something go.

“Still, it’s on us sometimes because I think in many of these games, in terms of pushing things and creating chances, I think we’ve been pretty good.”

Good hasn’t sufficed for LAFC, as the Galaxy have won five times, drawn four and lost only three times in 12 meetings. But the action has been nothing short of spectacular, producing 56 goals in 12 games.

So we can continue debating if the Seattle Sounders-Portland Timbers rivalry remains the best in MLS, or how much you may disike the “El Tráfico” nickname. That’s all reasonable.

One thing's for sure: Whenever these Los Angeles foes clash, the madness will leave you wanting more.