LOS ANGELES — The inaugural 2018 season was just a preview of what’s to come for LAFC in its sophomore year. That’s been the theme of every practice and friendly match that has taken place in 2019 — there’s only more to come.
From the outside, it might seem as if LAFC accomplished everything that could be hoped for in its first season — a winning record, sold-out games fueled by a passionate fanbase and a run to the playoffs. But head coach Bob Bradley and his team are aware the club left a lot on the table last year. The team often struggled to maintain leads in the final third of matches. It failed to find a victory in all three of its bitter rivalry matches against the LA Galaxy. And most importantly, LAFC fell in the first round of the MLS playoffs.
The months passed since that final game haven’t faded the bitter taste of that loss. With the shine of its newcomer status worn off, LAFC now looks to prove it is here to stay.
LAFC kicks off sophomore season against Sporting KC
When: March 3, 5:30 p.m. PT
Where: Banc of California Stadium
Broadcast: TV — ESPN, ESPN Deportes; Radio — ESPN 710, KFWB 980
Live stream: WatchESPN
The buzz: There aren’t many better ways to kick off a season than at home in the Banc against Sporting KC. If LAFC had a thorn in its side throughout its inaugural season — besides its crosstown rivalry with the Galaxy — it was the squad out of Kansas City. LAFC couldn’t best Sporting KC in two meetings. The Black and Gold was shutout in the first meeting and outmuscled in the second, despite suffering a red card with 30 minutes left in play.
Sporting KC took the top spot in the Western Conference last season, finishing three points ahead of Seattle and five ahead of LAFC, which finished in third place. This season can be expected to be the same, with both teams eager to avenge the end of last season. For LAFC, that’s a shocking loss in the first round of the MLS playoffs; for Sporting KC, it’s a loss in the conference finals to Portland. Starting the season with a clash between the two Western Conference powerhouses sets the tone for a 2019 season that will only raise the stakes for LAFC.
Other key matches
July 19 at LA Galaxy— It’s only been forged for a season, but this crosstown rivalry is already becoming one of the best in the league. Last season, LAFC was never quite able to overcome the Galaxy, falling in a series of grueling comebacks that always fell in the rival’s favor. The history between the two teams will only make the first victory that much sweeter for LAFC, and deep into the regular season, it will be vital that the team proves itself as the dominant team in Los Angeles.
July 27 at Atlanta United — There’s no better way to prove a team’s mettle than to take on the best of the best. LAFC will do exactly that, traveling to one of the most intense stadiums in the league to take on the reigning MLS champions. The team has done this once before and suffered a 5-0 beating when it faced Atlanta in its home stadium last April, but that was a very different version of LAFC, before the signings of players like Adama Diomande and Lee Nguyen. The rematch will be a good test for the team midway through the season.
August 25 vs LA Galaxy — Yes, this rivalry is good enough to repeated. Regardless of how the first meeting goes, the rematch will hold a different weight because it will take place on the Black and Gold’s home turf. The team has yet to give its supporters a win against the Galaxy, and providing one at home will be equally important in the second season.
Check out the full 2018 schedule here.
Quotes & Notes
Shortly after scoring the game’s lone goal, captain Carlos Vela left the team’s final preseason game against Vancouver last Saturday with a knee injury. The news spiked concern throughout the team and fans, as Vela is the team’s leader on the attack. However, the team reported that Vela’s MRI came away negative, and while he remains day-to-day in recovery, he has not been ruled out for Sunday’s game.
Head coach Bob Bradley on the upcoming season: “Last year we were a pretty good team. But now, [we] seem to be committed to getting hold of everyone and trying to make sure that we are even better in those ways.”
Biggest offseason moves
- Ureña option passed: At the start of last season, the concept of parting ways with striker Marco Ureña would have seemed outlandish to most LAFC fans. The Costa Rican’s chemistry with Carlos Vela up-top was undeniable at the start of the 2018 season, and his presence on the attack led to many of the opportunities that both Vela and Diego Rossi saw early on. But Ureña struggled to score on his own as the season progressed, and as additions such as Adama Diomande and Lee Nguyen began to gel better with Rossi and Vela, his presence was dampened. Ureña finished the season with two goals, one less than defender Walker Zimmerman, and it seemed inevitable that the team released him in search of some younger talent to bolster for the next season.
- Bye-bye Benny: Another good-bye was said to Benny Feilhaber, a midfielder who played in all but one of the team’s matches in 2018. Although Feilhaber performed as one of the central pillars of a midfield that started the season on shaky ground, he became a free agent at the end of the season and joined the Colorado Rapids.
- We Are LAFC: Perhaps the biggest non-football announcement for the team was announced a little over a week before the team’s home opener — a 10-part, all-access documentary series, entitled “We Are LAFC,” released by ESPN on Feb. 25. The show follows the team throughout its inaugural season, providing behind-the-scenes access to the club and its players, coaches and executives as they navigate the opening of a new club in Los Angeles. The show was also provided in Spanish — titled “Somos LAFC” — and can be streamed on ESPN+, serving as a high-quality source for hype for fans as they prepare for the 2019 season.
Forwards –Latif Blessing, 22; Shaft Brewer Jr., 19; Adama Diomande, 29; Josh Pérez, 21; Adrien Perez, 23; Christian Ramirez, 27; Diego Rossi, 20; Carlos Vela, 29; Rodolfo Zelaya, 30
Midfielders – Eduard Atuesta, 21; André Horta, 22; Mark-Anthony Kaye, 24; Lee Nguyen, 32
Defenders – Lamar Batista, 20; Steven Beitashour, 32; Tristan Blackmon, 22; Mohamed El-Munir, 26; Niko Hämäläinen, 21; Jordan Harvey, 35; Dejan Jaković, 33; Eddie Segura, 22; Danilo Silva, 32; Walker Zimmerman, 25
Goalkeepers – Phillip Ejimadu, 19; Tyler Miller, 25; Pablo Sisniega, 23
See full roster details here.