Only 10 of the more than 800 players in MLS were born in Spain, so those who made the journey here tend to be close. Until the whistle blows.
“We’re like brothers,” said Galaxy midfielder Victor Vázquez. “Of course, once the game starts, we’re not friends anymore. 90 minutes long.”
Or longer. Earlier this season, Vázquez’s Galaxy twice defeated LAFC, the team that employs Ilie Sánchez. Before each game, Vázquez received a warm hug from Sánchez, a former neighbor at Barcelona. After each game he got a strict text.
“He told me, ‘Don’t call me because I’m mad at the result,'” Vázquez said with a grin on Thursday. “He said, ‘Don’t talk to me for a week.’ ”
The former teammates’ friendship will be put to the test again on Friday when their clubs meet for the third time this season, this time at the Banc of California Stadium. Despite having the best record, goals and goal difference in MLS, LAFC (11-4-3) have been winless in the last five editions of the Intercity derby El Trafico.
The Galaxy (8-6-3), on the other hand, is hovering just above the playoff line but has won all six games against the top six teams in Supporters’ Shield standings.
When Sánchez joined LAFC in January after five seasons with Sporting Kansas City, he said he wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the rivalry — especially with Vázquez starting at the other end.
“At first it was a bit too strange to see him in such an intense game,” he said. “It’s probably not the ideal situation. But we’re professionals and we can separate things when we come into the field.
“And believe me, the LAFC people – fans, staff – teach us all what this rivalry means for the city, the club and LAFC.”
Vázquez and Sánchez grew up not far from each other, Vázquez near Barcelona’s historic Basilica de la Sagrada Familia and Sánchez a few blocks from the city’s old bullring, which has been converted into a trendy seven-story mall.
At 10, Vázquez joined FC Barcelona’s youth system, where he coached alongside Cesc Fàbregas, Gerard Piqué and Lionel Messi, who soon became Vázquez’s best friend.
“I remember that Messi and Victor were by far the best players in our team,” Fàbregas once said. “Sometimes they would go head-to-head. If one scored four goals in a game, the other scored five.”
Back then, many considered Vázquez to be the brightest player of Barcelona’s golden generation. Still, it was Messi who became arguably the greatest player of all time, while Vázquez made just three appearances for the first-team. He spent most of his time at Barcelona B, where he played alongside Sánchez, four years his junior.
“At this time there is no better place than this,” said Sánchez. “With so many other players, you could learn from them, you had them to talk to. It was a great time to be a part of. We really exploited the system in Barcelona.”
“We grew up there,” added Vázquez, who said his former teammate hasn’t changed much.
“Ilie had the same skills, the same skill, the same mentality,” he said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s not that kind of player [who] want to try too much. He just plays.”
Sánchez, whose grandfather Joan Farrés was once the director of Barcelona’s famous youth academy La Masia, joined the development system when he was 8 and played five years and 114 games for the B team. But he was only called up for one preseason game with the first team before heading to Germany and eventually the MLS, winning a US Open Cup and forming the 2018 All-Star Team with Sporting Kansas City.
Halfway through his first season at LAFC, the midfielder has more than filled the sizable void left by Eduard Atuesta’s departure and leveled a defense that has given up a conference-low 19 goals.
Vázquez has now visited more countries than a UN diplomat and left Spain in 2011 to embark on a tour that would see him play in Belgium, Mexico, Canada and Qatar before joining Galaxy last season.
At Toronto he played under current Galaxy coach Greg Vanney and played for the only MLS team to win a treble – MLS Cup, National Cup and Supporters’ Shield – in 2017 when he was named to the league’s top eleven.
When he’s on the field, Vázquez’s creativity fuels the Galaxy Offensive. Plagued by injuries, however, he has only started eight of the team’s 17 games this season.
After arriving in LA last winter, Sánchez said he visited Vázquez frequently, but that has become more difficult since the start of the regular season.
“But definitely we talk and we know we’re there for each other,” he said. “I’ll probably see you next week.”
They might want to start exchanging text messages. Depending on what happens on Friday night, it may take him a few days to recover.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/story/2022-07-07/el-trafico-lafc-ilie-sanchez-galaxy-victor-vazquez El Trafico: Special rivalry for LAFC’s Sánchez, Galaxy’s Vázquez