Only 10 of the more than 800 MLS players were born in Spain, so those who have made their way here tend to be close. Until the whistle blows.
‘We’re like brothers’ – Galaxy midfielder Victor Vasquez said. Of course, once the game starts, we are no longer friends. For 90 minutes.”
Or longer. Earlier this season Vasquez Galaxy beat LAFC twiceteam that hires Ilie Sanchez. Before every game, Vasquez was warmly embraced by Sanchez, a former neighbor in Barcelona. After each game, he received a strict text.
“He told me, ‘Don’t call me because I’m crazy about the result,'” Vazquez said with a smirk on Thursday. “He said, ‘Don’t talk to me for a week.’ ”
The friendship of the former teammates will be tested again on Friday when their clubs meet for the third time this season, this time at Bank of California Stadium. Although LAFC (11-4-3) has the best record, most goals and best goal difference in MLS, he hasn’t won in the last five matches of the intercity derby known as Traffic.
Galaxy (8-6-3), on the other hand, are hovering just above the playoff line but have won all six games against the top six teams in the Supporters’ Shield.
When Sanchez joined the LAFC in January after five seasons with the Sporting Kansas City, he said he wasn’t prepared for a bitter rivalry, especially with Vazquez lined up on the other side.
“At first it was a little strange to see him in such a tense game,” he said. “Perhaps this is not an ideal situation. But we are professionals and we can separate things when we get on the field.
“And trust me, at LAFC, the people – the fans, the staff – they all teach us what this rivalry means for the city, for the club, for LAFC.”
Vazquez and Sanchez grew up close to each other, Vazquez near Barcelona’s historic Sagrada Familia, and Sanchez a couple of blocks from the city’s old bullring that has been turned into a trendy seven-story mall.
At the age of 10, Vazquez joined the youth system of FC Barcelona, where he trained alongside Cesc Fàbregas, Gerard Piqué and Lionel Messi, who soon became Vazquez’s best friend.
“I remember that Messi and Victor were the best players in our team,” Fabregas once said. “Sometimes they had duels face to face. If one had scored four in one game, the other would have scored five.”
At the time, Vazquez was considered by many to be the most brilliant player in Barcelona’s golden generation. Nevertheless, it was Messi who became arguably the greatest player of all time, while Vazquez made only three appearances for the first team. He spent most of his time at Barcelona B, where he played alongside Sanchez, who is four years younger.
“At the time, there was no better place than this,” Sanchez said. “With so many other players, you could learn from them, you could talk to them. It was a great time for us to be a part. We really took advantage of the system that was in Barcelona.
“We grew up there,” added Vasquez, who said his former teammate hasn’t changed much.
“Elijah had the same abilities, the same skills, the same mentality,” he said. “He is hardworking. He’s not that kind of player [who] wants to try too many things. He just plays.”
Sánchez, whose grandfather Joan Farres was once director of Barcelona’s famed La Masia youth academy, joined the development system when he was 8 years old and played five years and 114 games for the B team. But he was only called up for one pre-season game with the first team before heading to Germany and eventually the MLS to win the US Open Cup and be named to the 2018 All-Star Team with Sporting Kansas City.
Halfway through his first season in the LAFC, the defensive midfielder more than filled the significant void left by the departure of Edouard Atuesta, balancing out a defense that scored 19 goals, a low for the conference.
Vazquez, meanwhile, has traveled to more countries than a UN diplomat, leaving Spain in 2011 to start a tour that saw him play in Belgium, Mexico, Canada and Qatar before joining Galaxy last season.
In Toronto, playing under current Galaxy coach Greg Vanney, he starred in the only MLS team to win a treble – the MLS Cup, the National Cup and the Fan Shield – in 2017, when he was named to the league’s top players. .
When he’s on the field, Vasquez’s ingenuity drives the Galaxy to attack. However, due to injuries, he only started eight of the team’s 17 games that season.
After Sanchez arrived in Los Angeles last winter, he said he frequented Vasquez, but it became more difficult as the regular season began.
“But we definitely talk and know that we are close to each other,” he said. “Perhaps we’ll see each other next week.”
They might want to start with text messaging. Depending on what happens on Friday night, the recovery could take a few days.