LAFC had two bye weeks in a row, which is pretty unusual by MLS standards barring weather delays. The reasons were obvious and logical — the stadium will open April 29, so playing fewer games during the stretch before that is an attempt to prevent a truly daunting road trip to start the season.
But is having three weeks between games good or bad for the expansion team? In a word, both. Let’s go over the reasoning here.
Pro: It gives the team more time to practice before the business end of the season arrives
One of the biggest disadvantages expansion teams have in general is that they are a brand-new group. Everyone is new, especially in this case when the team was created in a matter of weeks. So any opportunity to give the coaching staff time to work on their game plan and for the team to get used to playing together away from the harsh lights is a good thing.
Con: It may mess with the form through the first two weeks of the season
It’s safe to say few truly expected LAFC to be 2-0-0 through two games. The team itself may have been motivated to prove the doubters wrong, but I think the schedule probably anticipated LAFC would be much more likely to start the season with two losses than two wins.
So what happens when you start the season hot? Sometimes bye weeks can interrupt the run hot teams are on, and that could interrupt LAFC’s fantastic start to the season. Of course, it could prove irrelevant if they pick right back up where they left off against the Galaxy, but if they fall flat, having a long break could play a role.
Pro: No players missing due to FIFA international window
12 teams opted to play through this month’s FIFA international break. LAFC was not one of them, and considering five of their starters were called up (and the team has been playing with a short bench) that was the correct call.
It’s always tricky to calibrate ahead of time when an MLS team should play through a FIFA window and when they should not. Sometimes, you lose hardly any players, and your potential opponent is decimated. Sometimes, you’re the team that’s hit hard. For an expansion team that may have to count points very carefully over the course of a season, sitting out an international break is absolutely the right call.
Con: Possibility of injury on international duty
Club teams are simultaneously proud that they field international players and praying every minute those players are away that they will return healthy. Most of the conflict between national teams and clubs stems from this issue.
Of course, the flipside is that every player can get hurt at any time, whether it’s a training session, a friendly, or a final. There are situations where people can be more smart, but the reality is that these humans who use their bodies for a living are at constant risk of being injured. The current international break is not over yet, but if all of LAFC’s players come back healthy then they’ll have avoided a big pitfall of the break.
Pro: The element of surprise
With a new team and only 180 minutes of game tape, LAFC will have an advantage in that there just isn’t that much known about them. Sure, the broad strokes are there, with a 4-2-3-1 formation playing flowing, attacking soccer. But even between the first and second games there were significant differences. In the opening game against Seattle Sounders, LAFC clearly tried to score early and were left spending the time after they took the lead holding on for the win. It seemed that may have not been the explicit plan, but that’s how the game went. In contract, against Real Salt Lake, LAFC started the match rather subdued, but raised the intensity again, and again, and again until they came out 5-1 winners.
The element of surprise is on Bob Bradley’s side, and I fully expect a new wrinkle against the Galaxy.
Con: Opponents may be in better match form overall
Probably the biggest risk in having a long bye in the opening month of a season is the chance that match fitness and form will be heavily in favor of the opponent. Although the time on the training field can help galvanize a team, the other side of the spectrum is that nothing replaces actual competitive game minutes, and going three weeks between games is a very long time, especially in the first month of a season.
In this particular case, the Galaxy have played three games to LAFC’s two, so the imbalance is likely not going to be substantial. Having a big break now may help keep LAFC fresh for the next few months, or it may lead to a month or more of struggles as the team tries to get in a regular playing rhythm.
Above all, the truth is we can’t predict what the impact of the long bye will have for LAFC. They may thrive with the rest and time away, they may struggle, or they may be at about the same level. We’ll find out Saturday if it made any substantial difference. good or bad.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!