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With MLS Cup in sight, LAFC keeping their minds right this time around

Having learned the hard lessons in 2019, this version of LAFC is far more focused on the bigger picture.

Austin FC v Los Angeles Football Club: Western Conference Finals - 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images

Job’s not finished. The famous Kobe Bryant quote has been adopted as a rallying cry by just about every sports team, professional or otherwise, within a 20 mile radius of Los Angeles. It’s been no different for LAFC. While some will roll their eyes at what has now become a slightly overused one-liner, the black-and-gold are one of the few teams who can say it and have first-hand experience of what happens when you don't finish the job.

2019 has become the stuff of legend for LAFC. The team that year felt unbeatable, they broke just about every record there was to break, had several players either awarded or named finalists for various awards, and secured their first-ever Supporters’ Shield. At that point in time, the team had yet to get a win against their LA rivals, Galaxy, and were set to host their cross-town foes for a spot in the Western Conference Finals. As we all know, the team won that match, 5-3, and the celebrations commenced.

Had you not known any better, you'd have thought the title was won on that night. It’s not wrong either, the team worked hard to get that first-ever win against their bitter rivals, and to do so in the playoffs when it mattered most, was a huge sense of “we’ve arrived” in a lot of ways.

Unfortunately, that win carried over into the next round where LAFC were not just out of gas emotionally, but ended up out of the playoffs at the hands of their other rivals, Seattle Sounders. Despite scoring early and jumping to an early lead, Seattle equalized almost immediately, and then scored a second shortly after. It was hard to watch, as the league's best team that year just looked completely drained. They had emptied the tank to secure that win against the Galaxy, and it very much showed.

This year’s team however, seems to have learned from that very hard lesson. It wasn't 20 minutes after the final whistle before LAFC were on social media proclaiming the job not finished. No longer basking in beating their rivals, this time they acted very much like they had been there before. This time around, it wasn't a surprise, it wasn't a weight lifted off their shoulders. It was just another match on the road to their greater goals. Beating the Galaxy in the playoffs this time around was far less about bragging rights, and more about finally establishing themselves as LA’s team. However, to do that, you need to finish the job.

Which is what makes this year's version of LAFC so damn scary. Unlike 2019, they didn't fold in the Western Conference Finals. Instead, they put forth what was arguably their most complete performance of the season against a very tough, very hyped-up Austin FC side. The 3-0 scoreline was nice, but it was one of those matches where even a lopsided scoreline can't tell the story of just how dominant Los Angeles was on the day. They were in full-on ‘step on their necks’ mode, and didn't stop until that final whistle was blown.

That’s the ‘championship mentality’ so many in Los Angeles sports talk about. Right now, LAFC are up 2-0 in the postseason, with just 90 minutes left to complete their biggest goal as a club, winning the MLS Cup. Where in 2019 they were the team looking to scream from all the mountain tops about how great they are, the message is more subdued this time around. Sure, records may not have fallen, but this is still a team that spent most of the year atop the league standings, a team that finished with their second Supporters’ Shield and as the best team in the MLS.

Yet, this time around, none of that matters, because as it stands, the job isn't finished. There's only one way to truly claim this city as your own, and if LAFC finally want to plant their flag, they'll have to finish that job on Saturday.

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