Here we are again, talking about what is expected of LAFC as they head into the postseason push phase of the MLS season. As it stands right now, the black-and-gold are the first team in the league to 10 wins, are sitting at the top of the Western Conference with a four-point lead, as well as having a four-point cushion over Philadelphia in the race for the Supporters’ Shield. Then they had a week to remember off the field, as they not only added two world-class players, but locked up one of their own.
Over the course of the last week LAFC have secured the signatures of Italian legend Giorgio Chiellini as well as the latest signing of Welsh superstar attacker Gareth Bale. As if that wasn't enough, the team also locked in Carlos Vela until the end of 2023, officially making this one of the best rosters on paper we have seen from LAFC, and possibly, all of MLS.
That’s the key phrase though isn't it? On paper.
The club has been able to put together some of the strongest rosters and have even had a season (2019) where they broke nearly every record possible, were playing their best football, and still ended up eliminated in the semifinals by Seattle Sounders. For as great as they've been on paper, or have looked on pitch, this is still a team yet to see an MLS Cup Final match. They just recently (2020) made their first-ever final appearance across all competitions. Now, the team is as healthy as it’s been the last couple years, added two of the game’s top players, and have your star striker committed for the rest of the season. Excuses have run out and the time has approached, this is a win now moment for LAFC.
It’s not harsh to say, and it’s understood within the organization. When speaking to ESPN during halftime of their most recent match, LAFC Co-President and GM, John Thorrington, spoke on the expectations now that the league's best team got even better. “I want to win. This team wants to win. That is our absolute ambition, to win everything we are in contention for, to qualify for Champions League and become a bigger and bigger part of the global conversation.”
Head coach Steve Cherundolo also understands that adding pieces like they did, only adds to the desire to win, saying, “Approaching the players with the news was also interesting to watch their reactions. They’re all excited and everyone is in this for the same reason, we want to win. These [signings] help us win.”
Of course, with such big names arriving to a team already somewhat comfortable at the top of the standings through half of the season, many wondered what other clubs around the league thought. One such club is the team setting the standard in the MLS, and recent Champions League winners, Seattle Sounders.
Our good friends over at Sounder at Heart were able to grab some quotes from Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer, as he relished the opportunity to face Gareth Bale and LAFC.
“I think it’s great for the league, let’s see how they get those attacking pieces and how they’ll defend,” Schmetzer said.
He would later talk about not changing too much of what Seattle does now that their rivals have gotten even better.
“I’m the kind of coach who doesn’t really change for other teams,” Schmetzer said. “We’ll scout them and figure out where they’re going to put their attacking pieces. It was the same thing with 2019 when they had that unbelievable year. Gonzo and Djimi came up with that pentagon shape and we found a solution. It was a tweak, we didn’t change our whole style of play. That will be the trick.”
It’s not a shock he brought up 2019, the mythical year where the black-and-gold looked like a team of destiny. A team incapable of losing, a team that was surely headed for MLS Cup glory, only to be taken down by the eventual champions, Sounders. They aren't wrong in their lack of concern either, for as great as LAFC have been, they've yet to really threaten for the MLS Cup. Disappointing losses have plagued their postseason, as well as injuries ruining seasons before they even start. Now though, now this team is in the best position it's been in since that 2019 season.
Sure, perhaps not demolishing records, but securing wins. Sitting in first place, players not just staying healthy, but those who were hurt last season are beginning to work their way back into the team. Vela is healthy, Cristian Arango is finding rhythm after netting 17 goals last season, and now the team adds a 38-year-old defensive legend, and a 32-year-old who on his day can seemingly score at will. The expectation is simple, if not difficult. Win the MLS Cup.
Regardless of what happens between now and the playoffs, no matter what obstacles the team face, the mission is clear. Win, now. This team has been far too talented to have only appeared in one Final in four and a half years. This club is way too invested to allow another season end without a trophy. And to put it plainly, you don't go out and add the likes of Chiellini and Bale to your already first-placed roster just to get eliminated in the second round by FC Dallas or Real Salt Lake. Definitely enjoy this moment, pat yourselves on the back, celebrate the arrivals of world-class players, bask in the attention of a Kylian Mbappe who chose your match to watch during his rare vacation time. Just remember the city you represent, and the expectations that come with it. It’s time for the black-and-gold to add more silverware, including the 2022 MLS Cup.
What are your expectations for this team now? Leave a comment below!