LAFC IN 2020
The 2020 MLS season seemed to pick up in March almost exactly where LAFC had left off after a record-breaking 2019. Reigning Golden Boot winner Carlos Vela scored goals in the Club’s first two matches against Inter Miami and the Philadelphia Union. The Club advanced past Liga MX’s Club Leon in the first round of the CONCACAF Champion League, on a wild 3-0 win in the second leg of the series, coming back from a two-goal deficit to mark a historic statement win over one of the top teams in Mexico.
The stage was set to continue another exciting season and run through international play, but the COVID-19 global pandemic shut down the sports world on March 12. The MLS season was officially suspended as the league and sports world reeled from the inability to host live events, and it looked like LAFC’s history making could be over after a total of just four games.
Unable to take the pitch, the Club immersed itself in the community, launching numerous efforts to help Los Angeles navigate the new normal. LAFC launched the Black and Gold Community Relief Fund, an effort to raise critical dollars earmarked to support its community that has been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, hosted food giveaways, blood drives with the American Red Cross and worked hand in hand with the L.A. Mayor’s office to help distribute critical COVID-19 safety information.
On July 8, 2020, LAFC signed its first ever former Academy players to Homegrown First Team contracts, realizing Thorrington’s original vision of what the Club’s youth program could be - “the backbone” of the Club. As planned, the young players Tony Leone (16-years-old), Christian Torres (16-years-old) and Erik Dueñas (15-years-old) immediately stepped into their first team roles with seamless efficiency.
After several months of planning, MLS returned with the MLS Is Back Tournament in a “bubble” like setting in Orlando in mid-July. The Black & Gold were sent home by Orlando City SC in the Quarterfinals of the MLS is Back tournament by way of penalties, but not before picking up five regular season points in the group stage with ties against Houston and Portland and a win over the Galaxy. Without Carlos Vela missing the tournament to remain in Los Angeles with his pregnant wife, Diego Rossi took a sudden star turn, breaking out and earning the Golden Boot for the MLS Is Back tournament, a place on the Best XI and the Best Young Player award.
As the season continued in empty venues across the country without fans, LAFC was faced with the toughest on-field adversity it had faced in its three-year history. Vela was lost for nearly 10 weeks with a knee injury suffered against the Galaxy on Aug. 22, and the Black & Gold were forced to play major parts of the season without Eduard Atuesta, Tristan Blackmon and Mark-Anthony Kaye due to injury, and by mid-September, had already surpassed its loss total (4) from the year before.
There were still major bright spots for the young Club, though. On October 14, 16-year-old Christian Torres become the first-ever former Academy product to start an MLS match, becoming the youngest MLS player to earn a start on the season. That same day, 15-year-old Erik Dueñas, the second of the three Academy signings, entered the match in the 71st minute and at 15 years, 362 days became the third youngest player to appear in an MLS match in league history, behind only Freddy Adu and Alphonso Davies. Eleven games after his first appearance on August 30th, Torres became the first-ever Academy product to score an MLS goal, an equalizer against the Portland Timbers late in stoppage time, netting more history for the youth movement of the Club.
With other major stars including Vela sidelined, Diego Rossi leveled up his play, taking on more leadership responsibility a scoring spree that ultimately led to the capture of the MLS scoring title. Donning the captain’s armband, he added a goal at home against Portland on September 13 to help the Club to a much needed three points, and another against Vancouver as part of a 6-0 route at the Banc a week later.
While most fans and soccer pundits focused on Vela for the first two seasons of LAFC’s existence, Rossi made sure that the second Designated Player signed in team history was now thought of as a first option. On Oct. 4, Rossi scored against Real Salt Lake, nothing his 50th career goal in all competitions, an incredible showing for the 22-year-old. He added an assist on Oct. 25 in the 2-0 victory over Club rival Galaxy. He then went off, scoring in back-to-back matches against Houston and San Jose, bringing his season goal tally to 14 and securing him the Golden Boot – the first time in MLS history that teammates have won the scoring title in consecutive seasons. Rossi also become the youngest-ever to win the award. His on-pitch success also garnered him MLS Young Player Of The Year and MLS Best XI honors, bringing his total season hardware count to six.
It wasn’t only Rossi and the academy homegrowns who flourished on the season. Young newcomers including Mahala Opoku and Danny Musosvki scored meaningful goals. Veteran striker Bradley Wright-Phillips ended the regular season tied for the fifth highest goal tally in MLS with eight and tied for fifth in assists with six in 18 appearances en-route to the League’s 2020 Comeback Player of the Year.
The Black and Gold entered the MLS Cup Playoff fold as a seven seed, facing the Seattle Sounders in Round one, but starters Diego Rossi, Brian Rodriguez, José Cifuentes and Diego Palacios had to miss the match due to contracting COVID-19 with their respective national teams. LAFC fell to the Western Conference rival 3-1, but still had the chance to earn further hardware with the restart of CONCACAF Champions League.
The Club began the CCL Quarterfinals by defeating Liga MX powerhouse Cruz Azul 2-1. In the semifinal against Liga MX giant Club América, LAFC went down early in the first half against the run of play. Later in the half, Eduard Atuesta and América goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa found themselves in a scuffle that left Atuesta with a red card and LAFC a man down going into the half. It was looking dire until a scintillating Carlos Vela put on a show to open the second half, scoring two goals in the first two minutes. Then Latif Blessing fired in a stoppage time goal to put the game out of reach 3-1.
In just their third season, the Black & Gold had already become the first MLS team to beat three Liga MX teams in a single tournament and were just the third MLS team to qualify for a Concacaf final since 2000. Playing without 2019 Best XI midfielder Eduard Atuesta, who was forced to miss the final due to a controversial red card ejection against Club América in the semifinal, LAFC controlled the action for much of the first 70 minutes as they looked to take down the fourth Liga MX club in the competition. After a scoreless first half, Diego Rossi gave LAFC a 1-0 lead in the 61st minute flipping in a perfect cross field pass from Mark-Anthony Kaye after a beautiful build-up.
But the Black & Gold could not hang on – as Tigres evened the match in the 71st minute on a header by Hugo Ayala, and then took the lead with six minutes remaining on a André-Pierre Gignac goal.
And just like that, after a stirring performance that grabbed the world’s attention with some marquee victories over Mexican giants Club León, Cruz Azul and Club América, LAFC’s unbelievable 2020 season is finally concluded.
- First club in MLS history with consecutive Golden Boot Winners ((Carlos Vela (2019), Diego Rossi (2020))
- Youngest-ever MLS Golden Boot Winner (Diego Rossi - 22 years old)
- Third youngest player ever to appear in an MLS match (Erik Dueñas (15 years, 362 days) - 10/14/20 LAFC at Vancouver Whitecaps)
- Youngest average age starting lineup in 2020 MLS season (24.1 - 11/4/20 - LAFC at SJ Earthquakes)
Major MLS Honors
- 2020 Golden Boot: Diego Rossi
- 2020 MLS Best XI: Diego Rossi
- 2020 AT&T MLS Young Player of the Year: Diego Rossi
- 2020 MLS Comeback Player of the Year: Bradley Wright-Phillips