Wilson Goal LAFC.jpg

MLS Team Guide: Los Angeles Football Club

Friday, April 2, 2021

Ahead of the 2021 MLS season, Richard Fleming introduces us to the teams set to face the Colorado Rapids. Last year LAFC were far from the impressive force they had been in their opening two seasons, but one suspects they will be challenging again come the end.

First season in MLS: 2018
Honors: Western Conference champions (2019), Supporters’ Shield winners (2019), CONCACAF Champions League runner-up (2020)

Stadium: Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles, California
Head Coach: Bob Bradley (appointed, July 2017)

History with the Rapids
LAFC had the Rapids’ number in their first two games, during 2018, with Bob Bradley’s boys victorious on both occasions, while keeping the Rapids off the scoresheet.

In front of a national television audience, a Danny Wilson header was the difference in the third meeting, in June 2019.

As they will in 2021, the two teams met on the final day of the 2019 season. LAFC had already secured the Supporters’ Shield but they had the chance to be the first club in MLS history to break the 70-point barrier. Carlos Vela’s 31 goals were level with the league record set by Josef Martinez a year earlier.

The Rapids had an outside chance of still making the playoffs with a win, and with results elsewhere going in their favor. Sporting KC fielded a weakened side and were duly handed a sound beating by FC Dallas, so it mattered little what the outcome was in LA, where Vela rattled in a hat-trick in a 3-1 win for the home side.

Even with a reduced schedule, last year’s one planned meeting never materialized. Due to be played in Commerce City on October 7, it was the first to fall when the Rapids suffered a Covid outbreak in the camp.

Head-to-head record: 1-3-0
Last meeting: L 3-1, 10/6/19 at Banc of California Stadium

2020 Season
For the second year in a row, an LAFC player walked off with the Golden Boot, handed to the player with most goals. In 2019 it was Vela with an all-time league record 34 goals, and last year Diego Rossi finished top of the scoring charts with 14.

At age 22, Rossi became the youngest player in MLS history to lead the league in goals. He was also named the MLS Young Player of the Year, as the top player in the league age 22 and under.

Vela’s time on the field was limited due to a mixture of international appearances for Mexico and injury. He was sidelined for more than two months of the regular season, limping out of the 2-0 loss to the Galaxy with a knee injury on August 22, and not returning until October 25.

In the absence of Vela, English veteran Bradley Wright-Phillips – later named MLS Comeback Player of the Year – chipped in with eight goals and six assists, but this was a team which blew hot and cold.

A 6-0 win over Vancouver was then followed by a 2-1 loss to San Jose. A 5-1 victory at home to San Jose was followed by back-to-back 3-0 losses, at LA Galaxy and then Real Salt Lake.

It was this inconsistency which saw them finish seventh in the standings, though in the final playoff place. Their MLS postseason ended on November 24, losing 3-1 at Seattle Sounders, albeit without Diego Rossi, Brian Rodríguez, Diego Palacios, and José Cifuentes due to positive COVID-19 tests.

They did still have some games to play over the remainder of 2020, defeating Club America and Cruz Azul en route to the CONCACAF Champions league final, where they were defeated by Tigres as late as December 22.

Offseason Highlights
LAFC were busy acquiring players for 2021 even before their 2020 season was over. Though still active in the Champions League, they snapped up Marco Farfan from Portland Timbers during the half-day trade window on December 13. Four days later they brought in midfielder Raheem Edwards in Stage 1 of the 2020 MLS Re-Entry Process. Edwards was with Minnesota last season.

A surprise switch came in mid-January when striker Corey Baird arrived from Real Salt Lake in exchange for $500,000 in General Allocation Money.

On the same day it was announced that LAFC had also signed South Korean international full-back Kim Moon-Hwan from K League side Busan IPark.

Central defender Jesus David Murillo, who joined on loan from Colombian side Deportivo Independiente Medellin last October, made his move permanent in what was turning out to be a busy January for the LA club.

With Kim and Murillo signed, Bob Bradley will hope to add a little steel to a back line which conceded the most goals (39) of any playoff team in the Western Conference. Only CF Montreal gave up more (43) of those MLS teams to feature in the postseason.

One departure of note was that of Brian Rodriguez on February 1. The Uruguay playmaker, who had a team-high seven assists last year, joined Spanish second division side UD Almería on loan until the end of their season in May. The move could become permanent if certain performance thresholds are met. Reports claim any transfer fee would be in the rather broad region of $11-19 million.

Players To Watch
Corey Baird: it will be interesting to see how Baird fares with the likes of Rossi and Vela around him. MLS Rookie of the Year in 2018, the 25-year-old ought now be in his prime, but his numbers dipped slightly after that first season in the league. Time to kick on.

Diego Rossi: at 23, younger than Baird, but this Designated Player is a natural goalscorer. Double digits in all three seasons with LAFC, he boasts 42 in 85 appearances. His league-high 14 goals in the stop-start season which was 2020 came from just 19 games. He was happy to take center stage in the absence of Vela and expect him to shine once again in 2021.

Carlos Vela: from the highs in 2019, last season was a struggle for Vela. He went five months without playing, mainly because he rightly opted not to play at the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando as his wife was expecting their second child. He then missed games later in the year due to an MCL injury, managing a total of seven appearances (four starts) in which he scored four times, a year after being named league MVP and smashing home 34 goals. So, expect him to be more hungry than ever, and keen to share the spotlight once again with Rossi.

In: Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake), Raheem Edwards (Minnesota United), Marco Farfan (Portland Timbers), Cal Jennings (Indy Eleven), Kim Moon-Hwan (Busan IPark), Jesus David Murillo (Deportivo Independiente Medellin), Tomas Romero (homegrown rights acquired from Philadelphia Union).

Out: Phillip Ejimadu (released), Andy Najar (released), Adrien Perez (D.C. United – 2nd Stage of Re-Entry Draft), Brian Rodriguez (UD Almería – loan), Bradley Wright-Phillips (released, signed as free agent with Columbus Crew SC).

Meetings in 2021:
May 22 (away)
November 7 (home)

Click HERE for the full Rapids schedule.

Did You Know?
The opening game of the season is already being promoted as a bit of a Hollywood matchup, with LAFC hosting newcomers Austin FC, pitting respective club’s co-owners Will Ferrell and Matthew McConaughey against each other.

Ferrell is not the only celebrity with a controlling interest in LAFC. Their ownership also includes basketball legend Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, former US women’s international star Mia Hamm, and self-help guru Tony Robbins.

LAFC’s soccer footprint grew during the offseason as they announced a partnership with USL Championship club Las Vegas Lights. And Banc of California Stadium will be home to Angel City Football Club, who will begin playing in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in Spring 2022.