The five-time UEFA Champions League winner and longtime Premier League and LaLiga star has seen the brightest of stages and taken iconic clubs like Real Madrid and Tottenham to lofty heights, winning 19 trophies since 2013.
That trajectory, again, is his mission with the Black & Gold. And the Welsh superstar showed Saturday night he's taking that task to heart, scoring his first MLS goal in the 83rd minute of a 2-0 road win over Sporting Kansas City. He had debuted in last weekend's 2-1 win at Nashville SC.
“It was nice to come on and grab a goal to help the team get the three points,” said Bale, who subbed on in the 65th minute for the Supporters' Shield leaders. “From a personal point of view it’s nice to get off the mark and more importantly get the three points."
Getting an early goal in his MLS venture is vital as Bale builds towards the Qatar 2022 World Cup with Wales, particularly after playing time was hard to come by during his final year with Real Madrid. His last goal at the club level came nearly 11 months ago (in August 2021) in a 3-3 draw against Levante. And while the 33-year-old had six goals in nine international appearances since then, reaching form and fitness are key as the Dragons, drawn into Group B alongside the United States, enter their first World Cup in 64 years this November and December.
Towards those aims, Bale joining a forward line that already includes MLS stars Chicho Arango and Carlos Vela has made the transition a smooth one for a player who has previously joined some star-studded lineups.
“It was always going to take some getting used to playing with new players, but I think we understand each other very well. Good forward players always work off each other and know where to be off the ball and on the ball,” Bale said of Vela and Arango. “They’ve been amazing since I’ve been here. They are both great players and hopefully we can keep gelling and score a lot more goals together.”
Arango set up Bale for his first MLS goal after scoring himself in the 56th minute, his ninth goal of the season and 23rd in 38 matches since arriving last August. Meanwhile, Vela has six goals and eight assists this year as the 2019 Landon Donovan MLS MVP continues to rediscover form.
While Bale’s minutes have been limited during what would normally be his preseason in Europe, and with LAFC's coaching staff cognizant of his injury history, adaptation on the offensive side has come with no delay.
Now, as LAFC look to maintain their hold atop the Western Conference standings and make a run at MLS Cup on Nov. 5, the Welshman is one piece of a high-octane group that's still sorting itself in some regards.
“There’s two sides to the ball – defensively and offensively. With the ball, I don’t think we need to have the discussion. They have incredible qualities and they were able to show them tonight,” said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo.
“But the work against the ball is also very important in this game and it’s an important part of our game model. The three have to find a way as well to work hard defensively and disrupt the rhythm of play of the opponent and create low-percentage passes and chances for the opponent through their defensive work. That is one of the portions of their game together as a collective that we’re working on.”
As Bale builds his fitness and becomes a more prominent piece of LAFC’s postseason push (13 regular-season games remaining), further settling into his new club can do wonders with the World Cup over the horizon.
“I’m enjoying it here. Everybody at the club has made me feel very welcome very quickly. I feel very settled straight away. I think any player will tell you, if they feel happy and settled they start to play their best football,” said Bale, who's on a Targeted Allocation Money deal, just like fellow summertime arrival and ex-Juventus center back Giorgio Chiellini.
“I hope that continues and I’ll keep working hard for the team like I always do.”
A quick study
Gareth Bale wasted little time in netting his first goal with LAFC, scoring in his second appearance with the club. That has been consistent throughout his club career with prior stops at Southampton, Tottenham and Real Madrid.
• Southampton – Aug. 6, 2006: Scored in his third start with the club and first of the 06-07 season in a 2-2 draw at Derby County.
• Tottenham Hotspur – Sept. 1, 2007: Scored in his second league start in a 3-3 draw at Fulham.
• Real Madrid – Sept. 14, 2013: Scored in his first league start in a 2-2 draw at Villareal.
• LAFC – July 23, 2022 - Scored in his second appearance in a 2-0 win at Sporting Kansas City.