After weeks of training and a closed-door friendly match, LAFC is officially kicking off the preseason at Banc of California stadium on Thursday night by hosting Japanese club Vissel Kobe for a friendly.
The game is as much about exhibition as competition, offering fans a chance to return to the stadium and see their team after a long drought following the end of the season. Despite a forecast of rain for the evening, the team hoped for a strong showing from a fan section desperate to regain the momentum and energy from the end of last season.
But the game is also expected to draw attention due to the big-name stars of Vissel Kobe — Spanish stars David Villa and Andres Iniesta, and German star Lukas Podolski. The match has already been framed as a clash between LAFC captain Carlos Vela and Iniesta, the Spanish star who was the former captain of Barcelona. Podolski, who is widely considered to be one of the best German players of his generation, has played for the likes of Bayern Munich and Arsenal
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“These kind of matches give us the chance to test the things we’re doing in training every day,” Bradley said. “I know that every one of these guys, the idea of them getting on the same field as Iniesta and Villa — come on, if you’re not excited for that something’s wrong.”
The game will have a special impact for midfielder Javi Pérez, a native of Valencia, Spain who idolized David Villa as a young player. Over time, Villa has become a mentor for Pérez, offering support and guidance throughout his career after helping to kickstart it at his DV7 academy. Both players are looking forward to the opportunity to clash on the pitch.
“David meant a lot, especially to the fans of Valencia,” Pérez said. “He did great things, he scored a lot of goals. He did a lot of things for the team and the city. He was an idol for a lot of us.”
When: Thursday, 7 p.m. PT
Where: Banc of California stadium
How to watch: Listen on TalkSoccer, watch on WatchESPN