Hernández: El Tráfico at the Rose Bowl on the Fourth of July needs to be an L.A. staple

They have to do this again.

And again.

And again.

The Galaxy and LAFC have to play at the Rose Bowl every Fourth of July.

Otherwise, when will the 102-year-old stadium ever come to life? UCLA’s football team barely has any fans, and the ones they have are completely beaten down.

Almost by accident, the Galaxy and LAFC have created something that has the potential to be a real Los Angeles tradition, and they would be shortsighted to not stage this event a third time and a fourth time and a 50th time.

“I love the game,” Galaxy coach Greg Vanney said.

Consider this: Vanney’s team lost, 2-1.

Vanney was extremely critical of his players, calling their play in the first half “purposeless,” but that didn’t distort his view of the stands.

The 70,076 fans who packed the stadium. The choreographed drum beats and chants that started hours before the game. The boos that were directed at LAFC striker Denis Bouanga as he lined up to take his 44th-minute penalty kick and the cheers that erupted when he scored. The flare that was ignited behind the south goal in the closing minutes of the game and blanketed the field with smoke.

“I just think in MLS, there’s only so many opportunities you have in a season to create an environment like this where it feels like a playoff atmosphere,” Vanney said. “It feels like a bigger game than just another derby or another MLS game.”

Vanney’s opinion could be important in making the game a permanent fixture on the calendar.

In their two games against LAFC at the Rose Bowl, the Galaxy were the hosts both times. They essentially gave up a home game to play at a neutral site but didn’t mind doing so, in part because they had two other dates against their crosstown rivals: once at their Dignity Health Sports Park and once at LAFC’s BMO Stadium.

MLS’ expansion next year could change that, as the league will be adding a 30th team, San Diego FC.

“The league hasn’t officially given us direction on what the schedule would be next year,” said Tom Braun, the Galaxy’s president of business operations and chief operating officer.

Braun continued: “You would think though, with 30 teams, is there a possibility that we play a team a third time? Maybe. But was that for sure? We don’t know if it’s for sure yet. If we’re playing a home-and-home, we’d have to take a close look at it.”

In other words, assuming the Galaxy would remain the home team in any future Rose Bowl game — the stadium was their home in their first seven years of existence, from 1996 to 2002 — would they give up home-field advantage to build a new holiday tradition?

“The sporting side,” including Vanney, would be consulted, according to Braun.

“Our No. 1 priority is giving our team the best opportunity to win,” Braun said.

For what it’s worth, it looked as if there were four or five times as many white Galaxy jerseys in the stands than black LAFC tops. If any team enjoyed home-field advantage, it was the Galaxy.

Vanney deferred to his team’s business operations, saying: “There’s a lot of people behind the scenes who have to make this happen and have to sell tickets and have to do a lot of things to help this stadium look as it did tonight. … But, again, from a competitive standpoint, I love the game because I think it has a bit of a special feeling when the guys come out and play.”

Vanney was right. There are non-soccer considerations.

Strong ticket sales are required for any future games at the Rose Bowl to make financial sense for the Galaxy, since they would be renters. They own Dignity Health Sports Park.

Corporate sponsorships could be affected. The fan experience could be too.

At the same time, Braun said he appreciated the importance of playing a game like this at the Rose Bowl.

“You never know what you’re doing on Fourth of July until the last minute,” he said. “I think this gives fans and Angelenos a really cool event to come to and mark on the calendar.”

And to think, the first Rose Bowl Trafico was originally intended to open the MLS season last year and only pushed back to July 4 because of severe winter weather. The game last year, a 2-1 win by the Galaxy, attracted an MLS-record 82,110 fans. Dignity Health Sports Park holds 27,000 fans.

“Building our brand and building our sport in this country, it’s important,” Braun said. “I think it takes a special match to be able to take it to the Rose Bowl.“

El Tráfico is a special match.

In the seven years since LAFC joined the league, it has become MLS’ best rivalry. It has arguably become Los Angeles’ best rivalry in any sport.

The Dodgers hosted the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Harry Connick Jr. performed at the Hollywood Bowl, but the Rose Bowl was the place to be on the Fourth of July. El Tráfico can be to the Fourth of July what boxing is to Cinco de Mayo, what the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions are to Thanksgiving or what the Rose Bowl Game is to New Year’s Day.

For teams that continue to fight for visibility in a congested market, this is worth protecting and building on, whatever the cost.

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