Since Major League Soccer’s inception, the LA Galaxy have always been one of the league's most high-profile franchises.
Playing in one of North America’s biggest markets, the Galaxy have consistently employed some of the league’s biggest names, from Cobi Jones, Luis Hernandez and Carlos Ruiz, on to David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
But entering the 2018 season, the Galaxy might be embarking on a strange new reality: flying under the radar.
Just across town, Los Angeles FC will begin their inaugural MLS season in a brand-new stadium, coached by a former U.S. national team manager, featuring a current Mexico national team star and owned by the likes of Magic Johnson, Will Ferrell, Mia Hamm, and many others.
To be sure, there will still be a fair amount of attention on Sigi Schmid’s team. After all, they do possess the Dos Santos brothers, and there is a certain amount of cache that the Galaxy brand will always carry in MLS.
But it’s fair to say that the bright shiny new object across town is sucking up some of the air in the country’s second-largest city heading into the 2018 campaign.
“People are always enamored with what’s new and LAFC right now is new,” Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid told Goal.
“They’re building a new stadium. I think we understand that and we understand that maybe some of the attention in the city goes towards that but we’re also looking forward to that challenge.”
For the Galaxy, new challenges also bring new opportunities. Unlike the contrived rivalry with the late Chivas USA that rarely moved the needle in LA or nationally, the Galaxy appear to now have a genuine rival across town that should challenge them both on and off the pitch.
Big-name international stars will now have two teams to choose from should they desire a move to Southern California. Fans in LA will now have options when it comes to their money and allegiance. And the league will make sure there is plenty of focus on the newest rivalry in MLS.
That rivalry should theoretically push both sides to become better. As the longtime head coach of the Seattle Sounders, who along with arch-enemy Portland now both possess a MLS Cup trophy, Schmid knows what a true rivalry can do to energize a franchise.
“Obviously having another team in LA I think is fantastic for the league,” Schmid said. “It’s going to create a great rivalry, [and] I think the true competitive spirit within the two organizations and teams is there.
“Having been in Seattle, certainly the Seattle-Portland rivalry is fantastic and supporters on both sides of the equation are very dedicated to their teams and motivated in supporting their teams. I think we’re going to see the same thing in LA. I think the Galaxy is going to bring out the best in LAFC supporters and the LAFC supporters are going to bring out the best in the Galaxy supporters.”
In some ways, having LAFC enter the league in 2018 could be a benefit for the Galaxy. Or it could be a curse.
The team is coming off the worst season in franchise history. Instead of their usual spot near the top of the Western Conference standings, the Galaxy tied for the fewest points in MLS in 2017.
Having LAFC attract much of the attention might take some of the pressure of the Galaxy as they embark upon a rebuilding effort – or it could magnify the team’s failures if they are unable to right the ship.
After all, nothing would be more embarrassing for the league’s all-time most successful franchise than to finish the 2018 season behind an expansion team in its own backyard.
"The best way to go about this [rivalry] is by winning," Galaxy midfielder Baggio Husidic told Goal. "When you’re winning at home the fans will be coming, so the most important thing is to win.
"It doesn’t matter about all the extra stuff off the field, big-name players, the whole Hollywood thing, but when you’re winning, the fans are coming to the games."
Fans in LA now have two MLS teams whose home games they can attend, and the Galaxy will surely turn plenty of potential customers away if they post a mark similar to the 3-9-5 home record they managed in 2017.
The presence of LAFC could turn up the heat on the Galaxy, but Schmid insists that all the pressure applied on his side in 2018 will be coming from inside its own locker room.
“Our pressure is what we put on ourselves, what our expectations are for ourselves,” Schmid said.
“Whether LAFC is in the market or not, our expectation would be the same. We want to be a team that makes the playoffs, we want to be a team that competes for championships and we want to erase the memory of last season, and that has nothing to do with LAFC."