The 2018 MLS All-Star Game is here.
Carlos Vela and Laurent Ciman are in Atlanta, representing MLS against defending Serie A champions Juventus. While here in LA, LAFC has a short break before the stretch run of its inaugural season.
With the season on pause for the moment, the All-Star Game provides a natural reflection point for 2018. Through 21 matches, LAFC’s 36 points are on par with the best start ever by an expansion side – tied with the 1998 Chicago Fire and two points better than Atlanta in 2017. At this moment, LAFC sit second in the Western Conference. But points and the table don’t tell the entire story. Looking at the season in one big swath doesn’t do it justice either.
I’ve split up the year so far into five sections, each its own story. Pieced together though, LAFC’s inaugural season up to this point comes into better focus. And to close, we’ll take a look at what’s ahead.
Here’s the story of the 2018 LAFC season so far:
Historic Road Trip
If LAFC wanted to start its inaugural season off on a good foot, they were going to have to earn it. The Black & Gold began the first two months of the season with six road matches, spanning 14,116 miles and two trips north of the border.
And they acquitted themselves with historic aplomb.
Eleven minutes into the first MLS match in Club history, Diego Rossi gave the 400 traveling Supporters in Seattle the gift of the first-ever goal in LAFC history. The curling shot - just out of the reach of the diving Stefan Frei - was quite the opening salvo, as LAFC announced its arrival to MLS and then held on for the first three points in Club history.
A near flawless 5-1 victory in Utah - the worst home loss in Real Salt Lake history - followed the win in Seattle, and LAFC were perfect through two matches with a trip to Carson looming large in the season’s third match.
Three goals to the good and an hour in, LAFC looked to be headed towards nine points out of nine. As Bob Bradley likes to put it, his squad was “Zlatan’d” in the end. But even in the loss, the team marveled at the traveling support, having gotten their first taste of the sheer passion of the 3252.
Another setback followed in Atlanta, but the ship was righted in the Club’s first trip to Canada. Consecutive matches north of the border stood between the Black & Gold and its first home match. Carlos Vela once again showed an opposing team what he can do with time and space, and the ball on his left foot, at the top of the box. And Laurent Ciman introduced us to a new weapon in his arsenal with a 35-yard rocket of a free kick in Montreal.
All said and done, LAFC’s six-match road trip ended with 12 points, the most of any team in MLS starting a season with six matches or more away from home. The Club’s four road wins in six matches eclipsed the total of all but one expansion team’s entire inaugural season since 2009. And after 540-plus minutes played in front of opposing fans, LAFC returned to the opening of its brand-new home in the heart of Los Angeles.
Most Memorable Moment: 1-0 win to start the season in Seattle, the first three points in Club history.
Home Sweet Home
A familiar opponent awaited LAFC as it opened the doors for the first-ever match at Banc of California Stadium. And a familiar result occurred, too.
But unlike the away trip to Seattle, where Supporters were relegated to a sliver of the stadium high up in the rafters, the first home match was black and gold from pitch to ceiling. The new roof at Banc of California Stadium doing its best to hold in the unrelenting support of the North End a full two hours before kickoff.
This time, LAFC would leave it late against the Sounders. But Laurent Ciman’s 90th minute free kick was well worth the wait. Another 1-0 win over the team in rave green from the Pacific Northwest, and the first home three points in Club history.
Victories followed against Minnesota, Columbus, Philadelphia, and Orlando. The first goal LAFC goal scored in the North End came from none other than Carlos Vela in a 2-2 draw with NYCFC. And a new goalscoring hero emerged at home in Adama Diomande. Signed just before the close of the transfer window in May, Dio’s six goals at Banc of California Stadium, including a hat trick against the Union, are the most by any LAFC player at home.
Through ten matches at Banc of California Stadium, LAFC remain unbeaten this season. Only three other MLS sides have yet to taste defeat on home soil this season.
Most Memorable Moment: 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Union thanks to Dio’s three goals.
A Bundesliga Champion In LA
In a slight deviation from the MLS schedule, LAFC hosted its first international friendly at Banc of California Stadium on May 22. German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund made its way to LA.
While just a friendly, the match’s significance was highlighted by the sellout crowd that filled Banc of California Stadium on a Tuesday night. Two clubs separated by thousands of miles but enmeshed by the passion of their supporters kicked off what would be a special night in LA’s soccer history.
American international Christian Pulisic lead his black and yellow side onto the pitch, as the LAFC and BVB fans joined to sing the German club’s de facto anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
LAFC opened the scoring in the 77th minute through Aaron Kovar. But Maximilian Philipp ensured the visitors would share the spoils with an equalizer just three minutes from the final whistle. Afterwards, the two sides gathered for a group photo with the North End’s wall of black and gold as a backdrop.
Most Memorable Moment: The LAFC and BVB players joining together for a team photo in front of the North End at the end of the match.
LAFC At The World Cup
The initial callups to the world’s biggest tournament began in May. LAFC’s five players called in to five different provisional World Cup rosters were the most in MLS in 2018. By the start of the tournament, Carlos Vela, Marco Ureña, Omar Gaber and Laurent Ciman, as an alternate, traveled to Russia for World Cup duty.
With four influential players away, many expected LAFC to barely survive the month-long tournament. But the Black & Gold lost only once.
An unbelievable comeback win behind two goals after the 90th minute in San Jose kicked off a run of four wins in all competitions. At the forefront of LAFC’s charge was Adama Diomande’s historic goalscoring form to start an MLS career. With Ureña away starting matches for Costa Rica against the likes of five-time champion Brazil and Vela lifting Mexico to a 1-0 victory over reigning champions Germany, Dio scored seven goals in his first five MLS games, the most by any player to start a career in the League’s 23-year history.
Behind Dio, LAFC rose up the standings in the Western Conference. With the World Cup trio away, Latif Blessing (two goals in MLS play and another two in the Open Cup) and Benny Feilhaber (three assists) also helped carry the load for the Club.
LAFC played a total of seven matches in all competitions with Vela, Ureña, and Gaber away at the World Cup. Four wins, a draw, and one loss over that span moved the Club up to second in Western Conference and into the Open Cup quarterfinals.
Most Memorable Moment: Carlos Vela scores against South Korea, becoming only the second non-American MLS player to score in a World Cup.
Open Cup Run
The oldest knockout tournament in the U.S. presented MLS’ newest Club with the opportunity to win its first trophy.
While some sides punt on the U.S. Open Cup, LAFC made it clear they were all-in on the tournament, electing to host the opening rounds at Banc of California Stadium.
Taking on second-tier side Fresno FC from the USL, LAFC scored its first goal in the history of the Open Cup via none other than its first MLS goalscorer. Diego Rossi broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute after a scramble in the Fresno penalty area. Latif Blessing doubled the lead in the 58th minute. Tyler Miller and the LAFC defense took care of the rest, holding the visitors at bay in a 2-0 victory.
In the Round of 16, LAFC welcomed Sacramento Republic FC to the Banc. The two sides met in LAFC’s final preseason match, a 1-0 victory to the Black & Gold in Sacramento. With a spot in the Open Cup quarterfinals on the line, the match was by no means a friendly reunion.
The visitors struck first and carried a 1-0 lead in a physical match into halftime. After missing a penalty in the first half, Benny Feilhaber made amends by smashing home an equalizer in the 58th minute. But Sacramento reclaimed the lead just two minutes later following a nifty give-and-go at the top of the LAFC penalty area.
Needing a goal, LAFC turned once again to Rossi. Denied by the post just two minutes earlier, Rossi finished off a well-weighted through ball from Lee Nguyen to knot the match at 2-2 in the 67th minute. With a foothold back in the match, LAFC pressed for a winner in regular time. Rossi found the inside of the same post once more, and saw his shot skitter across the goal line before going out of play. But four minutes later, he turned provider when his angled ball across the Sacramento six-yard box met the foot of Latif Blessing in the 89th minute. LAFC were through to the quarterfinals, and its first match with an MLS side in the tournament.
A scheduling coincidence meant the dress rehearsal to LAFC’s Open Cup quarterfinal would play out three days earlier with the Portland Timbers in town for a League match. The 0-0 draw on the day hinted at how evenly the matched the two sides were following Portland’s 2-1 win at home over LAFC back in May.
Unlike that contest, LAFC played the aggressor early on in the match. Carlos Vela’s driven cross was headed backwards by David Guzmán and into his own net to give the Black & Gold a 1-0 lead. Vela doubled the advantage in the 38th minute. With the ball glued to his left foot, the LAFC forward side stepped two Portland defenders before caressing his finish into the side netting, and it looked like LAFC would go into halftime two goals to the good. But a late set piece gave the Timbers life and halved the score at the interval.
Six minutes into the second half, LAFC had a two-goal lead once more. Marco Ureña was in the right place at the right time to coolly flick Jordan Harvey’s errant shot into the back of the Timbers net. But LAFC's two-goal cushion didn't last long, as the Timbers stormed down the pitch less than a minute later to make it 3-2.
But despite the likes of Samuel Armenteros and Diego Valeri coming on to the pitch for the visitors, LAFC clung to its lead late. Miller in particular rose to the occasion with a few stellar saves, and LAFC had booked its place in the Open Cup semifinals… or did it?
Rumblings began before the night was over that Portland would contest the match’s results, citing LAFC’s use of one too many international players on the night. Controversy swirled, and the semifinal draw was delayed as U.S. Soccer looked into the matter. Two days later, the matter was resolved when Portland formally withdrew its protest. The player in contention, Mark-Anthony Kaye, was cleared by the federation prior to the start of the tournament and LAFC would not suffer due to the miscommunication.
Officially on to the next round, LAFC became only the third expansion team in MLS history to reach the semifinal of the Open Cup in its inaugural season, joining the 2009 Seattle Sounders and 1998 Chicago Fire.
The Open Cup run continues August 8 in Houston against the Dynamo. Just two wins stand between LAFC and its first trophy.
Most Memorable Moment: LAFC sets a modern-era attendance record for a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal with 17,898 coming out to watch the midweek contest against the Timbers.
The Run In: A Look Ahead
Five months down, three to go. LAFC have 13 matches remaining in the MLS regular season.
The Black & Gold make their first trip to Red Bull Arena out of the break in an interconference matchup on August 5. And they’ll continue to battle on two fronts just three days later with a trip to Houston in the Open Cup semifinals.
Sitting second in the Western Conference, how do things look for LAFC going forward?
To start with, LAFC will have the benefit of seven home matches to finish out the season - during that time only the Portland Timbers have more remaining home matches in the Western Conference. Only five of the 10 teams LAFC will face to finish the season currently sit above the playoff line in their respective conferences – one of the teams below the playoff line, Colorado, will face LAFC twice in the remaining 13 matches. And entering the final stretch, LAFC lead the Western Conference in goals scored and are tied for the second-best goal differential.
With the second half of the season set to play out, one thing is certain - LAFC will continue to make history.