By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Dec 28, 2017) US Soccer Players - This year has some life left in it still, but 2017 will carry nothing more of significance for Southern California-based soccer fans. The final weekend of the year will be spent gazing aimlessly at leagues across the pond, of consuming rumors and speculation about potential player movement in MLS, or watching preseason Liga MX matches.
Finishing this year off with a whimper though will not reflect how massive 2018 will be. Next year will usher in a new era in Los Angeles and MLS. It will be a year full of activity in Mexican soccer. Both will command the attention of all Southern California soccer fans.
It still seems strange that MLS will have a second team in Los Angeles once again. Chivas USA died a slow and painful death in front of the entire league as it wasted away to nothing in 2014. LAFC promises to be the opposite of the defunct Red-and-White.
LAFC’s slick marketing campaigns and desire to reach out to LA-area soccer fans laid the foundation for a fan base. They take shape with names like head coach Bob Bradley, forward and future team star Carlos Vela, and MLS talents like Walker Zimmerman and Laurent Ciman. LAFC will kick off its existence on March 4 at Seattle and will open the Banc of California Stadium on April 29.
The league now has a stadium in downtown Los Angeles. It will be interesting to see what that looks like on game days. Excitement is high with this club and for good reason. LAFC should challenge for a playoff spot in its first year of existence.
LA Galaxy’s continuing decline
Things cannot possibly get worse for the LA Galaxy. Last in the overall league standings, the Galaxy suffered through a dreadful 2017 that saw coaching and front-office changes, a meager three home wins and yet another roster overhaul. Unfortunately for Galaxy fans, next year’s club will not be much better.
LA doesn't have the designated player spots to pick up a pricey impact player. Their moves so far are fine, but they need more than that to improve.
Worse, there is no goalkeeper. David Bingham, whom the Galaxy spent quite a bit to obtain, has not yet signed with the team. Also, there are still questions surrounding Sigi Schmid and his ability to rebuild this squad. The Galaxy may not finish last in the league in 2018. However, the days of the club rolling through the league and contending for a spot in MLS Cup are long gone.
Battle for Los Angeles
Once again, MLS will have two teams playing for Los Angeles superiority. The so-called Super Classico between the Galaxy and Chivas USA was hardly a rivalry. In the beginning, Chivas vs Galaxy games were energetic and lively. It didn't take long for the Galaxy dominated the series. After 2007, Chivas notched just one win in the rivalry.
The setting will be different this time. These teams will not share facilities, giving the games a unique feel. The Galaxy will try to play with the same passion and desire as they did against Chivas USA. LA’s losing ways will hamper those efforts.
Los Angeles really is up for grabs next year and the intensity should be grand for LAFC-Galaxy games. The as-yet-unnamed rivalry will not be the league’s best in 2018 simply because it is new. That could change quickly.
The fifth game
For Mexico, Russia 2018 will be about getting to the fifth game. Mexico has played four games in each of the last six World Cups, an impressive run. Each of those fourth games has ended in heartbreak, from losing in penalties to Bulgaria in 94 to blowing a 1-0 lead against the Netherlands with less than 10 minutes to play in 2014.
Just getting a fourth game in Russia will mean surviving the Group of Death. Mexico drew two strong European teams. Defending champions Germany has been nothing short of a machine over the last few years. Sweden knocked Italy out of the World Cup in a playoff in November. South Korea rounds out the group.
The uncertainty of advancing out of the group stage is greater heading into this World Cup than in any of the previous six. Still, if Mexico does survive, perhaps being battle tested will propel Mexico to the fifth game. It is unlikely that happens though as Mexico could very well end up not getting out of this group.
Liga MX dominance.
Tigres have won two of the last three Liga MX titles. They were a finalist in the CONCACAF Champions League a year ago. The club is the closest thing to a dynasty in Mexico. Another title or two would help cement that status.
Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti is one of Mexico’s best and most respected coaches. His club’s talent is top notch. To compete in league, Tigres must only maintain its intensity to reach the postseason. Once there, the club will rely on its experience and rabid home fans to help push on through for another title.
In Champions League, Tigres drew a beatable Herediano side in the Round of 16. The better matchup will be against Toronto FC in the quarterfinals. Toronto will have had the preseason as well as two Champions League games and a regular-season MLS match to prepare for Tigres, not ideal but also not the first round of games the MLS Cup champions will have played. Tigres vs Toronto would be a delight for all of North America.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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