Announced in October 2014, it’s been a very long road to get to this point. On the bright side, LAFC will be the first ever MLS expansion team to begin their home slate in a brand-new purpose-built stadium, something that should help put them on solid footing right off the bat. What else is there to know about the expansion side heading into the season? We’ll answer some of the big questions right here.
Who’s the coach?
Bob Bradley. With a resumé unique in American soccer, Bradley has coached several teams in MLS to success (including the Chicago Fire, leading them to a MLS Cup-U.S. Open Cup double in their first year), managed the U.S. Men’s National Team at a World Cup, and has gone far afield the past five years, coaching the Egyptian National Team to within a game of a World Cup, while that country was undergoing a revolution, as well as club sides in Norway, France and Wales. The last stop, at Premier League side Swansea, was an ill-fated move, as Bradley was unfortunately mocked by the press and evidently some of his players, and he was sent packing roughly 10 weeks after getting the job. Clearly, that short tenure on the biggest stage still smarts with Bradley, but he appears eager to jump back into MLS.
Who plays for them?
LAFC’s marquee name is Carlos Vela, one of the most talented Mexican players of his generation, coming off more than a decade playing in England and Spain. Vela appears to be genuinely excited to come to Los Angeles and play in MLS, and that’s great news — provided he stays healthy, he should be one of the best players in the league and the kind of player to launch a team in the right way.
Beyond that? Suffice to say with the season a few days away, LAFC’s roster remains a work in progress. Generally speaking, they’ve built around two groups of players — those with MLS experience (Laurent Ciman, Walker Zimmerman, Steven Beitashour, Jordan Harvey, Benny Feilhaber, Dejan Jakovic, Latif Blessing, Marcos Urena, Calum Mallace, Aaron Kovar, Tyler Miller) and young players imported from Latin America (Second Designated Player Diego Rossi, Luis Lopez, Eduard Atuesta, Rodrigo Pacheco).
Are some of those names pretty obscure? Sure. But LAFC are following a recent trend in MLS, in bringing in younger players from Latin America. If some of the newcomers hit the ground running and mesh well with the experienced MLSers, the team should be competitive. If not? It may be a rocky year.
Where will they play?
LAFC will open Banc of California Stadium, located next to the LA Memorial Coliseum in Exposition Park in Los Angeles, on April 29 against the Seattle Sounders. It’s a 22,000 seat venue, with season tickets sold out for the next two years, and it looks like it will be a seriously impressive venue.
Most notably, the stadium will help LAFC maintain a separate identity from their local rivals, the LA Galaxy, although the two teams’ stadiums are only about a 15-minute drive from each other.
What are the concerns heading into the season?
As an expansion team, you never quite know how things will come together. Bradley himself admitted this week that some of the signings the team had hoped to pull off were delayed and it’s been a challenge constructing the roster (although he still sounded confident it would work out fine).
That’s apparent based on the roster make-up right now. LAFC may potentially be a Top 5 attack in the league if the players come together well and find the scoreboard early. Their defense is pretty decent too, with Bradley capable of fielding four very experienced MLS players as well as bringing in rookies Joao Moutinho and Tristan Blackmon in the fullback spots. The defense could use more depth in the middle, however, and they’re going young at goalkeeper, with starter Tyler Miller having a total of three starts in his career in MLS, and potential future starter Luis Lopez (he’s currently hurt) only being 24 and having zero MLS experience himself. If you can play, you can play, but Bradley and company have to put a lot of trust into Miller and Lopez.
The other major concern is the midfield. At one point in the preseason, LAFC gave up four goals. The good news is they scored four in that game, too, but they really need a player or two to be added to bring quality alongside Benny Feilhaber. The team just signed defensive midfielder Eduard Atuesta, an unknown stateside who could make a quick jump, and they’ve been rumored to be in the running to add Portuguese up-and-comer Andre Horta. The latter deal isn’t done yet, but if it is, he’ll be another player that LAFC will be banking on buying low and having him blossom into a star in MLS. That’s a lot of pressure.
What’s their supporters’ group called?
As with most MLS teams, a variety of SGs have emerged to support LAFC leading up to the first season. Like a few teams, the various groups have come together as an overarching coalition called The 3252. The number symbolizes, among other things, the fact that the supporters’ end at Banc of California Stadium will fit 3,252 supporters.
What are the expectations in 2018?
Bradley wants to play “good football” and that’s a good starting point, for sure. While they’re cagey about openly professing ambitions to reach the playoffs, that surely has to be the benchmark on the field for the ownership, coaching staff and players. It won’t be easy, as in the last decade only two expansion teams (Seattle Sounders, Atlanta United) qualified for the playoffs in their first year. But the fact that Atlanta did it just last year puts some pressure on LAFC to keep pace. With the Western Conference projected to be the easier one heading into the season, they may get the combination of luck and results needed to reach the postseason. Will it happen? That remains to be seen.
What do the jerseys look like?
Yeah, yeah, games and stuff. We know you really care about the kits, which got mixed results when they dropped last week. Some say classic and clean, others say lackluster. Judge for yourself!
What do you think? Leave a comment below!