LAFC took MLS by storm during their expansion year, back in 2018.
Led by Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Latif Blessing, Eduard Atuesta and more, they finished third in the Western Conference standings. A year later, that group helped the club break the single-season league record for points (72) en route to a Supporters' Shield. That core then reached the brink of history in 2020, falling just short in the Concacaf Champions League final against Liga MX's Tigres UANL.
The big trophy eluding the group is MLS Cup. While there have been a number of players in and out across LAFC's first three seasons, that quintet is still at the club and 2021 just might be their last chance.
While Vela's long-term home seems set to be Los Angeles, the other four are at different stages of their careers with different goals. They've all been subject to interest abroad, with the club receiving concrete overtures for Rossi (from Reading and another Championship club) and Atuesta (from Palmeiras and another Brazilian club) this winter, while Kaye and Blessing have been no stranger to transfer speculation over the past few years.
There's no guarantee this group will be together in 2022.
“Do we think this is our last chance with this group to do something? You know, it’s tough to answer that," Kaye told media on a virtual press conference Wednesday. "We’re all aware of contract situations and stuff like that, but we try to go out every day and do our best. If we do that, hopefully the end of the season goes how we plan. Then if things happen and players move on, then that’s football, right?”
Vela earned Landon Donovan MLS MVP honors in 2019 with the greatest individual season in league history, but missed most of 2020 with injuries. He's back fit and hungry, as are his co-stars. Vela believes they can play anywhere in the world.
"They are ready," Vela said when asked specifically of Rossi, Atuesta, Kaye and Blessing. "Of course, it’s not easy to just say ‘I'm ready, I’ll go.' You have to find the right club. I think soon we will have a couple of players leave because they’re really good."
LAFC have never been shy in staying true to their model.
They've signed several talented youngsters who have developed under head coach Bob Bradley, and some could mark the end of the road with a big-money move abroad. Uruguay international winger Brian Rodriguez is currently on loan from LAFC to UD Almeira in Spain, a deal that came with a purchase clause. Rossi has been rumored as the next Europe-bound MLS talent for a few seasons now, but no deal has come off just yet.
“We want to win trophies," Bradley said. "A lot of people say the next step is MLS Cup, and I understand that. For me, the next step is performing over these first three games to get into the Open Cup. The next step is winning the Supporters’ Shield, then the final step is winning MLS Cup. Those are the goals for the year.”
“They’re going to come and throw their best effort because everybody will always look back on that first game," Bradley said. "We’re expecting an excellent match.”