A Closer Look At The First Phase Of LAFC's Return To Play

LAFC is Back…Again.

The MLS Is Back Tournament story for LAFC came to an unfortunate end on July 31, with the Club losing 5-4 in penalty kicks in the Quarterfinals to Orlando City Soccer Club. The boys in Black & Gold came home with their heads held high, returning home with a new experience, strengthened mental resilience and an additional five points to the season, positioning the Club in the fourth spot in the Western Conference with a total of nine points. 

The next phase of Major League Soccer’s 2020 season was announced this weekend, and if we thought LAFC’s MLS Is Back Tournament draw was stacked with additional storylines and rivalries, just take a look at the Club’s upcoming restart schedule. Beginning August 22 with a home match against the Galaxy, LAFC will then travel east to take on Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, August 26. The Club then heads to Seattle for a Sunday afternoon matchup against the Sounders FC on Aug. 30, before returning home to host San Jose on Wednesday, September 2. The Black & Gold will round out the first phase of matches with a second Galaxy matchup on Sunday, Sep. 6, and home matchup against Timbers FC on Sunday, Sep. 1.

“We talked when we got back from Orlando, that the next phase is a really important part of our season. We’ve now played five league games, and so the next six will really go a long way towards the final push,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “Starting with the Galaxy, so that’s always a big deal. All the games are big tests, and our ability now to take lessons from Orlando, we’ve got a couple weeks of training. We’re really trying to work individually with a number of players. It’s a time of the year where helping guys improve becomes a big part of the team growing.”

It’s an important stretch from the get-go, with LAFC drawing crosstown-rival Galaxy in game one of the restart, at the Banc. Previously, the Black & Gold have had a knack for creating magic in their home openers, first in 2018 when Laurent Ciman brought the house down in the waning minutes, connecting on a game-winning free kick from 30 yards out. Then in 2019 Adama Diomande scored a screaming stoppage time goal to beat Sporting KC, and finally in the first 2020 home opener, beating Inter Miami CF 1-0 in their first-ever game in franchise history. It will be interesting to see what the next stage of this scintillating rivalry brings out.

This next matchup against the Galaxy feels different, with the Black & Gold’s biggest rival still licking its wounds from the historic 6-2 drubbing it took during the MLS Is Back Tournament group stage that saw Diego Rossi make history as the first player in MLS history to score or assist on five goals in a single game two times in his career. LAFC set another record, as they became the first team to score 5+ goals in consecutive MLS matches against a single opponent (regular season + playoffs) since the Chicago Fire in 2001-2002. 

Chicharito and Jonathan Dos Santos did not play for the Galaxy in the last game, and their return will provide the Galaxy another dimension in attack to go with Christian Pavon.

LAFC will then travel to Real Salt Lake, a club that finds itself towards the bottom of the Western Conference table with six points on the season, but interestingly only one loss on the season, a 2-0 defeat at the hands of conference leading Sporting KC in MLS Is Back group play. In four regular season matchups between the two clubs, RSL has yet to earn a victory, but LAFC fans and supporters will not forget RSL’s only victory over the Black & Gold, when they sent LAFC home in their first-ever MLS Cup playoff game that featured this goal from Midfielder Damir Kreilach.

The third game on the schedule is a familiar foe, the Seattle Sounders, a team who LAFC also just defeated in the knockout round of the MLS Is Back Tournament. The Black & Gold avenged their loss in the 2019 Western Conference Final, dismantling the defending MLS Cup Champions, 4-1. After falling behind due to an early goal in each of their three group matches, LAFC stormed out of the gate, blitzing the Sounders early and often in the first 45 minutes. Diego Rossi added his MLS-leading sixth and seventh goals of the tournament, helping the Club to the win and a date with Orlando City in the quarterfinals.

The Sounders will be looking for their first-ever regular season win over the Club, but the defending champions are well-rounded and have a strong ability to create consistent dangerous scoring opportunities. They are a difficult team to prepare for, boasting a multi-dimensional style that is less dependent on individual brilliance, along with one of the staunchest defensive back lines in the game.

LAFC will returns home to face another California rival in the San Jose Earthquakes, another club that has yet to defeat the Black & Gold in the regular season. However, it appears San Jose in its second year under head coach Matias Almeyda has finally found its footing, completing an impressive run at the MLS Is Back Tournament by advancing to the quarterfinals before falling to Minnesota United 4-1. For Almeyda’s sake, let’s hope there’s not a repeat of the last time his club found themselves in Banc of California Stadium, a tough 4-0 loss that led to this ejection for the (at the time) first year coach. 

The last two games of the restart end back in Southern California, featuring a trip to Carson to face the Galaxy again, and then back home to the Banc to face Portland. Portland returns to downtown L.A. after playing LAFC to a 2-2 tie in the final group stage match of the MLS Is Back Tournament, a match that earned the Timbers a top spot in Group F. The four previous regular season matches between the clubs have seen an extra bit of chippiness and on-field controversy, and Portland is still looking to even the all-time regular season series, as LAFC currently holds a 2-1-2 advantage.

MLS plans to announce the balance of the regular season schedule by early September as the league continues to work with infectious disease experts, league and club medical personnel, and government officials in all markets in charting a course for the completion of the 2020 season.