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LAFC gets down to business ahead of El Tráfico

With the whole team back from international break, Los Angeles FC got back to business Thursday and fully focused on Saturday’s inaugural El Tráfico game against the LA Galaxy.

For head coach Bob Bradley, the timing of the break posed a particularly difficult challenge. Of the six players called out on international duty, five had started in the team’s first two games of MLS play. It was already difficult enough for the coach to create meaningful practices with his numbers reduced to 16 players. Without those starters locked in for Saturday, Bradley might have to make some adjustments.

“You manage international breaks slightly differently,” Bradley said. “And then as you get into the end, and you get closer to games, everybody can refocus and be excited about a game. In this case, with [the game] carrying special weight, the derby against the Galaxy, everybody is ready.”

The club has one guarantee, however — Carlos Vela will be ready for action on Saturday when he faces off against Giovani dos Santos, a midfielder for the Galaxy and Vela’s teammate on the Mexican national team. Santos has been helping Vela to adjust to Los Angeles living, and the pair played together last week with El Tri. But all of that camaraderie will disappear with the first whistle on Saturday.

“When you play against a friend, you work more because after the game, you have to speak with him,” Vela said. “So if I lose, I have to hear all the time ‘I’m better, we’re better.’ I prefer to win and then I can say, ‘Gio, we are the best in the city.’”

Vela and his team will have to be well-prepared to face off against the Galaxy’s newest acquisition, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. One of the most famous players in Europe, Ibrahimovic is known for his creativity on the attack and his bold personality off the pitch. He spent 16 years on the Swedish national team, serving as captain from 2010 until his international retirement in 2016 and finishing as the country’s all-time top scorer.

After weeks of swirling rumors, the Galaxy finally announced that Ibrahimovic would join the team on Friday, March 23. The announcement ignited a flurry of excitement for Galaxy fans and MLS fans as a whole, as news of the striker’s move — which forced him to take a 95 percent salary cut — made many feel that the MLS is more legitimate for European players.

Ibrahimovic’s debut could come against LAFC, a concept that provides both excitement and a challenge for the young team.

“I think it’s great for the league,” Bradley said. “I think it’s great for Los Angeles. Zlatan is a big player. Huge personality. And so when a player like that comes into the League, then you see it as a big plus.”

Ultimately, Saturday’s game will provide an opportunity for both teams to prove their newfound identities in the city.

“We are fighting to be the best team in the city,” Vela said. “It will be a great competition for the team and players to show what we are doing in training, what we are doing in the League. I hope we can show the way we play and win the game. That’s the most important.”

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