By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Oct 28, 2020) US Soccer Players – Los Angeles once again has plenty to celebrate from its sports teams. Turning around a fallow period for titles, the LA Lakers lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy as NBA champions. Yes, it happened in a bubble on the other side of the country. That didn’t stop fans from celebrating like things are normal. Last night, the Dodgers won the World Series in a different set of bizarre circumstances at a neutral site stadium in Texas. Once again, LA celebrated its championship.
The Dodgers and the Lakers have helped revive LA’s sports reputation. The city’s resident MLS clubs must hear the championship call and rise to the challenge. This is a prime opportunity to add to the city’s championship haul. In fact, it is more than a chance to win a title for the city. It’s an obligation.
Soccer continues to trail in popularity behind the established major sports leagues. A win now will help keep the league in the conversation about the city’s championship status. Nobody is pretending it’s the same thing, but it’s a necessary reminder that soccer matters in the pro sports landscape.
Chances like this do not come often. Including the LA Galaxy or LAFC in the conversation with the Lakers and Dodgers is important in normal times. It’s even more so when we’re talking about championship teams. The last time both the Lakers and the Dodgers won titles in the same year was 1988 when a top-tier professional soccer league was nowhere in sight. Now, everybody knows that LAFC has that nice stadium next to the Coliseum. There are the celebrity backing and marquee players. The Galaxy might take offense at that in Carson, but they’ve also put the work in for name recognition.
Neither can afford to get lost in the shuffle. Glory hunting might be a British turn of phrase, but it’s a familiar concept across North American sports. With winning comes the reminder that, “yes, that’s the team I care very much about.” Regardless of how genuine that sentiment is, it’s always easier to quickly back a winner. No team brings in previously uninterested fans by finishing out of the playoffs.
Of course, the team with a real chance of winning a title this year would be LAFC. The LA Galaxy has squandered away this year. Chicharito Hernandez hasn’t worked out, unfairly the focal point of a team that’s never really gotten it together long enough to factor. Instead of positioning itself for a championship run, the Galaxy looks closer to a coaching change and a rebuild. The current Galaxy team is no closer to winning a Cup than any of the squads from the past three seasons.
So it’s up to LAFC, now shouldering what could be an MLS moment. It’s a club built to win after all, even if that hasn’t played out as regularly this season. Still, this is a club that looks like it could put together a playoff run.
Last year’s regular season dominance ended earlier than expected in the playoffs. Maybe the reverse holds true this season. A somewhat pedestrian at times regular season turns the club into a playoff juggernaut. For some reason, that wouldn’t be at all surprising.
Right now, LAFC is firmly in the second-tier of Western Conference clubs, behind the top three of Seattle, Portland and Sporting KC. They’re rubbing elbows with Minnesota United, FC Dallas, Vancouver, and San Jose. It may very well be the carryover from 2019, but it’s tough to count LAFC out.
There was the return to play dropoff. Bad losses to the Galaxy, San Jose, and Seattle, among others raised serious concerns. There were several reasons for that, but the biggest one was injuries. Carlos Vela was out for nearly two months with a knee injury. Eduard Atuesta also missed significant time. Youngsters like Danny Musovski and Bryce Duke got significant playing time. The club even turned to a pair of 16-year-olds, Erik Duenas and Christian Torres, when trying to fill roster spots.
All of that unsteadiness forced the team to come together. Now that the big pieces are back or starting to come back, the team is deeper and better prepared. Musovski might have emerged the most scoring five goals and turning into a serious threat. With a front line of Vela, Diego Rossi, and Bradley Wright-Phillips, Musovski could fill the role Adama Diomande held when he was around. The team missed that at the start of the season. Without Vela, there was a noticeable void in the attack.
LAFC has the weapons to compete. The team must spend the rest of the regular season to gel and figure out a rotation. Once the playoffs start, LA as the newly-minted home of champions only increases the pressure. LAFC’s design fell flat last season. This time around, they can make up for that by adding to their city’s trophy haul. That’s now life in Titletown.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
More From Luis Bueno :
- The Galaxy’s lost season
- MLS Power Rankings: East is stronger, but Portland goes top
- LAFC and the Galaxy vs the LA sports market
- How can LAFC be out of the playoff spots?
Graphic courtesy of MLB