From the moment he was introduced to the Los Angeles Football Club community, Gareth Bale has been all smiles. His excitement to begin his Black & Gold tenure has been on full display, from his introductory press conference to his postgame celebration and through his first two weeks of training. That excitement, turned to intention once practices began, is quantifiable now that Bale has scored his first goal for LAFC.
“It was nice to come on and grab a goal to help the team get three points,” Bale said. “From a personal point of view it's nice to get off the mark and most importantly get the three points.”
Bale subbed into the match against Sporting Kansas City in the 65th minute, nine minutes after Cristian Arango put LAFC in the lead with the game's opening goal. Despite being a match between the first and last teams in the Western Conference, SKC played the Supporter’s Shield leaders to a scoreless first half, showing that goals in the match would not come easily. SKC's number one keeper Tim Melia, had stopped LAFC's first two goal scoring chances before leaving in the 53rd minute with a hamstring injury. John Pulskamp subbed in, allowing Chicho's goal just three minutes into his shift. His play improved after Chicho's breakthrough; there was only one other goal in the match, but it was a big one for LAFC.
In the 83rd minute, Bale recovered an errant SKC pass and sent a long pass on the ground through to Arango and then hit the afterburners into space on Chicho's right side. Bale's trademark speed, still very much intact at age 33, allowed him to glide past two SKC defenders while Arango advanced the ball towards the final third. Arango swung the ball back to Bale, who latched onto the ball with his left foot, dribbled it into the penalty area and then fired a strike with three defenders within two feet of him from 17 yards out that snuck between Pulskamp and the right post, despite the fact that SKC's substitute goalkeeper was defending that side of goal. Pulskamp kicked the ball into the net in emphatic frustration, and Bale ran to and through his teammates in celebration. The Welshman's speed, quality on the ball and his nose for scoring were put on full display, much to the dismay of SKC's supporters, players and coaches.
For LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo, Bale's versatility was the first topic of conversation in the postgame.
"Gareth is interchangeable in all three positions, and that is true for most of our attackers. That's something we're looking for at LAFC,” Cherundolo said. “He can play on the left, he can play as a nine, as a false nine, and he can play on the right as well. He should pop up in all those positions when he's on the field. He's doing a great job of adapting to our way of playing and getting more fit."
After the match, Bale spoke about his first moment of magic for LAFC, hinting that there is much more to come as he continues to work on his fitness.
"I think the most important thing is we won the game, first and foremost. I think we all knew the first half wasn't good enough but [Steve Cherundolo] had another great team talk and got us going,” Bald said. [It was a] great finish by Chicho to get things started. I'm enjoying it here. Everybody at the club has made me feel very welcome very quickly and I feel very settled straightaway. I think any player will tell you, if you're happy and settled you'll start to play your best football. I hope that continues and I'll keep working hard for the team as I always do.”
Bale may still have his first start to look forward to when Cherundolo deems him ready to do so, but his first goal for LAFC is now part of the club's history and he couldn't be happier about it.