It is perhaps easiest to look at a season with the old cliché of one game at a time, but sometimes it’s worth looking at a slightly longer clip.
Last season, it was easy to map out the first half of Los Angeles Football Club’s debut season. It broke into discrete chunks: The opening road trip, the stretch before the World Cup, then the World Cup stretch itself, up to the return of the players from the tournament.
After the World Cup, those chunks weren’t quite as easy to chop up naturally, but looking at the schedule month-by-month, we can get a sense of what’s ahead, now that the first game of the 2019 season is in the books. What’s in store for the rest of March for LAFC?
Four games, three 2018 playoff teams
Yes, the first four games of the season LAFC face playoff teams from last year: First Sporting Kansas City, already out of the way, then on Sunday the Portland Timbers at home. Follow that with a road game at New York City FC, then a return to The Banc to play Real Salt Lake, and the month is wrapped with a game on the road against the only non-playoff team last year, the San Jose Earthquakes.
While 12 teams total made the playoffs last year (just over half the league), it does show that LAFC is getting a good test right out of the gate. Sure, we never know which teams will sink and which with rise year to year until we’re a little way into the season, but they’ll get a good test and they’ll knock some of these presumably tougher games out of the way right out of the gate. If they can get results, that will be a very good thing.
First trip to Yankee Stadium
Ask any MLS team — playing games at Yankee Stadium is a different beast. The field is small (claims persist that the field is not actually regulation size), turf covers a big swath of one half (on the bright side, maybe it will be more settled since it won’t be the middle of baseball season), and the home team has an advantage in developing a style of playing there that no other team gets truly accustomed to.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Bob Bradley and LAFC’s players are asked about the Yankee Stadium challenges leading up to the NYCFC game, and they’ll likely shrug them off. But even with how adaptive this club has been overall in their history, this will be a new challenge. Should be interesting to see how they deal with it.
While the Sporting game had a whiff of unfinished business, since LAFC couldn’t beat them in 2018, and the Portland game will certainly have some rivalry overtones, considering how these teams were last season in their meetings, the big “rematch narrative” game is going to be the RSL game.
RSL, of course, beat LAFC at The Banc in the black-and-gold’s first ever playoff game, an upset perpetrated by a team that literally squeaked into the playoffs. It was a sucker punch, and while this game won’t have the same stakes, since it’s only in the regular season, I wouldn’t be surprised if LAFC is up for it a little more than usual and will be looking to put up a big win to gain a measure of revenge for the playoff ouster.
New Year, New Quakes?
The month of March closes out with a meeting on the road against San Jose, who LAFC beat twice in 2018 but who spanked LAFC 3-0 in preseason this year. Which will prevail, the form during the regular season or the form from 2019?
San Jose took the lead in their season debut but then ended up losing 2-1 at home on Saturday. They have a new coach, so expect their ideas to crystallize better in the coming weeks. On paper, this game against the Quakes looks like the easiest, but again, this is MLS — you never quite know what you’re going to get.
The rest of the five-game slate, of course, continues on Sunday against the Timbers. With the playoffs being single-elimination the whole way this year, every point, including those picked up in March, count.
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