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El Trafico: Which Mexican player will have the most impact?

MLS: Los Angeles FC at LA Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

As you probably know by now, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Los Angeles Football Club will face off on Thursday for the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs in what many are calling the biggest game of the week week in all of world football. For Mexican fans at least, especially those residing in Southern California, it will also be a game with a very special feel to it, as it is expected there will be at least three Mexican players in the starting lineup. On the one side, Uriel Antuna and Jonathan dos Santos are expected to get the nod for the LA Galaxy, while on the other, the ever-present Carlos Vela is expected to captain the Black and Gold. Through the course of the season, each one of these players have played a major role for their respective club, and in a game of colossal proportions like this one, you expect nothing short. But when it comes to predicting who will have the most impact on Thursday, things aren’t as clearcut. Naturally, Carlos Vela would be everybody’s choice, but that wasn’t the case when both of these sides met the first time this season.

Here’s what we can expect from all three and what sort of impact they can have in tomorrow’s game.

Carlos Vela - LAFC

Obviously, it’s hard not to pick Carlos Vela as the most impactful player in this one. He is after all the best player in Major League Soccer currently, and he is coming off breaking the single-season MLS goalscoring record. But while Carlos Vela has been a guarantee in the goalscoring department since the inception of this “clásico”, scoring seven goals in five matches, things haven’t always gone his way, as evidenced by LAFC’s inability to beat the Galaxy.

What perhaps makes this game different from the previous two games this season is that Vela has grown as a leader. It might sound cliched, but experience does matter at this stage of tournament. Last season when LAFC crashed out to Real Salt Lake in the Playoffs, you got the feeling that Vela was still trying to find himself as leader of this team, and as a result, his and the team’s ability to adapt mentally to certain situations was put into question. A year later and both Vela and his teammates seem to find themselves at a better place. In fact, since LAFC’s 3-2 drubbing to the Galaxy back in July, the black and gold have been able to show resilience on more than one occasion, including the subsequent match against the Galaxy which ended 3-3.

We know what Vela is capable of in the scoring department, but the big question now is will he able to replicate that when it matters most? Most importantly, will he able to inspire composure to the rest of his teammates, especially if things don’t go their way at first.

Uriel Antuna - LA Galaxy

It is arguable the Mexican player that experienced the most growth through the course of the regular season was none other than Uriel Antuna. In that regard, it’s also easy to see how the Mexican youngster could have the most impact in this match. Let’s be honest here, we are not expecting the LA Galaxy to go into this game and take complete possession of the ball. This is a game between two teams with two very different ways of seeing the game, and odds are we are going to get a very tactical approach from the five-time MLS Cup champs.

This is where Antuna comes in. Antuna has shown to be a great complement to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and he has done an exceptional job learning how to play off the ball. Antuna has gone from being a one-dimensional wide player, to one that likes to get the ball into space and even offers himself as a direct option for midfield players like Jonathan dos Santos and Joe Corona. Not to mention he is also a goalscoring threat. The guy finished the season with four goals in his last seven matches and has also scored an impressive six goals with the Mexico National Team.

Jonathan dos Santos - LA Galaxy

Jonathan dos Santos is most certainly not the flashy answer here, but make no mistake about it, he is more than capable of taking over this game. In fact, he already did it when both of these teams met at Banc of California Stadium back in August. JDS was tremendous in that game and unfortunately his night was only cut short because of a hamstring injury.

The interesting point to make here is that LAFC are no strangers to getting beat in the midfield. Most recently, Toronto FC went into LAFC’s home ground and were unlucky to leave the Banc with just one point. Sure, JDS is a completely different player from Michael Bradley but thats beside the point. This LAFC midfield can be beat.

LAFC’s midfield has also had major inconsistency problems late in the season and will not be able to count on Mark-Anthony Kaye for this one because of a hamstring injury. If the Galaxy decide to take the same route of the first game by upping the intensity and physicality of the match, then Kaye will undoubtedly be missed. Moreover, if the Galaxy find themselves winning the ball back often in the midfield, all it takes is a second for the Mexican to connect with either the attacking midfielder or a wide man to cause real damage. He has done it all season. There is a reason why he is called the heart of this Galaxy team.