There’s a new wave coming through Los Angeles.
The ground broke at Exposition Park, right next door to the LA Coliseum, during August 2016, and on April 29, Banc of California Stadium will open. The 22,000 seat stadium is set for its inaugural season of use for its brand new tenants, who made a splash with their announcement with a star-studded ownership ground that includes former Lakers star Magic Johnson, former Dodger Nomar Garciaparra, USWNT legend Mia Hamm, and Will Ferrell. I am, of course, referring to the newest team in town, MLS expansion club Los Angeles FC.
Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan is also part of the ownership group and brings his experience of owning a soccer club to the table. Tan has experience with Bosnian club FK Saravejo, Belgian club KV Kortrijk, and Welsh club Cardiff City, who played in the Premier League for a season during Tan’s ownership. His fourth club set a challenge to the established power of the city, the LA Galaxy.
When the club was announced, the Galaxy was on its way to a third MLS Cup in four years, but play a few miles south of LA in Carson at the StubHub Center, where the Chargers are playing their home games until the new stadium is built. LAFC sent a statement from the start that they would create their own identity, unlike the now defunct Chivas USA franchise that shared the Home Depot Center with their city neighbors.
Chivas USA was an effort to capitalize on the Mexican roots in the area, but a litany of poor performances eventually led to the franchise folding. At the same time, the Galaxy was the high flyer of the MLS, making the first mega-signing of the league in bringing David Beckham to the City of Angels from Real Madrid, and following it up a few years later with Irish star Robbie Keane. US legend Landon Donovan wore the number 10 in LA, and no one talked anymore of the early years with Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas, and Mauricio Cienfuegos running the show, even going so far as to shed the yellow and green color scheme. Instead, it was Donovan, Beckham, and Keane cutting apart MLS defenses in the new colors of white and blue. The defense was anchored by Mexican-American Omar Gonzalez, and eventually homegrown star Gyasi Zardes entered the fray to add pace to an already terrifying Galaxy attack
The Galaxy was the cream of the crop, but as Donovan retired and the machine began to slow, LAFC was announced. The Galaxy responded with the purchase of Giovani dos Santos from Villarreal in an effort to cement the loyalty of its fanbase, but the Mexican star, like much of his career, has been hit or miss. All of a sudden, the team went from signing valuable veterans that helped the product on the field to aging stars past their prime like Ashley Cole and Jermaine Jones. Even their longtime coach Bruce Arena jumped ship to take over the USMNT job. The organization tried to jumpstart its campaign in 2017 by buying the younger dos Santos brother, Jonathan, from Villarreal, but the organization would still miss the playoffs in 2017. Even in FIFA’s “The Journey,” Alex Hunter is sent to Los Angeles to save his career, as well as the Galaxy’s playoff hopes. This dip couldn’t have come at a worse time.
While the Galaxy floundered, LAFC soared. The team secured Mexican star Carlos Vela as its first signing and former USMNT manager Bob Bradley as its manager. Marco Ureña, who was vital to Costa Rica’s miraculous World Cup run in 2014, is also in black and gold, and the hype has only grown after the club traded for Sporting KC star Benny Feilhaber in the expansion draft.
It only took 11 minutes for forward Diego Rossi to bend a shot beyond Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, in Seattle no less, for the team’s inaugural MLS goal on the way to its first ever MLS win. Like Atlanta United last year, and in fact like the Sounders themselves in 2009, this is not a scared expansion team trying to feel out the league. However, the team will not rely on an old star from Europe to give them stability, unlike Seattle did with Arsenal legend Freddie Ljungberg. LAFC went for more established stars than Atlanta did, but then again, this is LA. You need a star to survive in the city, and the gold trim on the kits certainly acknowledge that playing in Los Angeles involves a little bit of glamor and flashiness.
Bradley began his tenure with a blank slate to build a team with players that fit his style, and he chose to focus on attacking, attractive soccer. From kickoff on Sunday, his team showed a commitment to this identity, and all the good and bad that comes with it. Facing the back-to-back Western Conference champions on the road, they played a wide open game and, despite the defensive mistakes that will occur with a new backline, matched Seattle’s attacking intent, at least in the first half. The second half showed the naivete that comes with an expansion team, but they’re the new team to watch. I not only expect them to challenge the LA Galaxy for fans in the city, but also to outperform their neighbors on the field. The tide is shifting in the City of Angels, and it may be the Galaxy that becomes the city’s second team. Or a true rivalry will form, one that propels MLS even further into the spotlight because the Galaxy decide to match fire with fire. But man is this team good.