When a violent storm swept over southern California last February, MLS concluded that it was unsafe to host the season-opening game between the Galaxy and LAFC at the Rose Bowl. But Tom Braun quickly discovered that there was a silver lining around those dark, black rain clouds.
As the Galaxy’s senior vice president of football and operations, it was Braun’s job to find an alternate date for the game in the most crowded MLS schedule in history. And less than two hours after Galaxy announced the postponement, Braun had it: the game would take place on July 4th.
LAFC was not busy that day. St. Louis City, an MLS extension team scheduled to play the Galaxy that night, agreed to move the game to September. And not only was the Rose Bowl available, but the city of Pasadena also allowed the Galaxy to host their traditional fireworks display at the stadium.
“Perhaps two dates would have been suitable for us as venues for this game,” said Braun. “And coincidentally, July 4th was one of them. So it worked out quickly.”
In doing so, Braun turned February’s rain into a Galaxy win, as the team have already handed out enough tickets – more than 85,000 as of Monday morning – to ensure Tuesday’s game had the highest reported regular-season attendance in MLS history will have, over the 74,479 shown to see Galaxy defeat Charlotte last season. The Galaxy were also the visiting team in front of the second largest crowd at a regular-season MLS game – the 72,548 spectators who lost to Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in August 2019.
Now they both break records on their return to the Rose Bowl, where the team played in their first seven seasons in MLS. The team and stadium staff are urging fans to arrive early as the crowd will also be the second largest at a soccer game in the United States since 2018. The largest? The 93,702 who packed the Rose Bowl last summer to watch Real Madrid beat Juventus.
Do you know who put the game together?
However, Tuesday’s game will be a bit more challenging than last summer’s game as it is not a friendly match between two European sides who are essentially on vacation in the city. It’s a league game between two bitter rivals, the most intense derby in MLS and one that has somehow stayed in high gear despite the fact that the two neighbors will meet at least four times this year.
And they’re going in different directions in the 20th renewal of El Tráfico, as the rivalry is called. LAFC (9-5-5), the reigning MLS champion, is tied for second in the Western Conference on points, while the injury-plagued Galaxy (3-9-7) are second to bottom in the 29-team MLS standings, according to Due an injury and an international appearance means that the three best central defenders and the top scorer of the last two seasons, captain Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, are missing. However, the Galaxy are five-game unbeaten in MLS, while LAFC have lost two games in a row and four of their last six games.
Because the fortunes of the two teams were so different, it took care and planning to crowd their fans into the same stadium, even a sprawling 93,000+ seat stadium.
“There’s going to be really strong representation from both sides,” said Braun, who has split the stadium in half, with one side for Galaxy fans and the other for LAFC fans. “I think it sets a different standard for our league to do something like that.”
The idea for the Rose Bowl game, originally scheduled for February, came about last fall when Galaxy and LAFC played each other again three times in the 2023 and 2024 seasons due to the unbalanced MLS regular-season schedule. One game would be played at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, home of the Galaxy, and the other at BMO Stadium in Exposition Park, home of LAFC.
For Game 3, the Galaxy could choose a different venue this year, and LAFC would have the option to choose Game 3 in 2024.
The Galaxy chose the legendary Rose Bowl where both the team and MLS launched in 1996 in front of 69,255 fans, at the time the largest crowd at any non-Olympic or World Cup soccer game in Southern California. LAFC hasn’t revealed where that third game will be played next season, but the Coliseum, which shares multiple parking lots and a landlord with BMO Stadium, appears to be the front runner.
The Rose Bowl doesn’t end with football this summer, however, as Real Madrid return to the Arroyo Seco on July 23 to play AC Milan in a UEFA Champions League semi-finalists’ clash. This is just one of three games on the Soccer Champions Tour that Braun is bringing to Southern California. Barcelona meet Arsenal at the SoFi Stadium on July 26 and Juventus meet AC Milan and Dignity Health Sports Park the next night.
Add in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final at SoFi Stadium on July 16, Wrexham FC’s exhibition at Carson on July 22, six games involving the two MLS sides and two Angel City games and that makes at least 13 top-flight matches Football matches between Inglewood and his Pasadena in the next three weeks. What isn’t increasing, however, is the attention span and disposable income of the average Southern California soccer fan. Could the abundance of games mean that crowds of more than 90,000 viewers will become even rarer in the future?
“We’ll find out,” Braun said. “It’s a very strong market, that’s been shown. It’s certainly a lot of football, but there’s definitely a demand in the market.”
As long as it doesn’t rain.