CARSON, Calif. – Despite what rival supporters may have said in pre-match banter before kickoff at StubHub Center on Saturday, everything about the trajectory of expansion outfit LAFC has been in one direction: upward.
They formed an exciting and diverse ownership group, constructed a new downtown stadium and training facility, nabbed vaunted players and coaches, and managed to quickly gel it all together in an undefeated preseason that set the stage for two season-opening road wins in games where few expected positive results.
For what it’s worth, even the LAFC academy have been dominant of late, their U-14 and U-13 teams having lost just one game in total during the US Soccer Development Academy season that kicked off in September and making the final of the U-12 competition at Generation adidas Cup.
Next to nothing has gone wrong for LAFC, at least until Saturday's "El Trafico."
“The first two games went our way,” coach Bradley told reporters outside the visiting locker room. “3-0 [ahead], things seemed to be going our way.”
Indeed, the club had few — if any — moments for serious self-reflection until an hour into their first contest against the LA Galaxy.
“We were doing very well until I lost the ball in the middle of midfield,” said Benny Feilhaber.
The veteran midfielder’s mistake directly led to the Galaxy's first goal. There’s room for debate, though, about whether the visitors had already grown lax when their fans started up “ole” chants in the 13 minutes after going ahead 3-0. And once the Galaxy brought the physical and emotional influence of a certain Swedish striker to bear, the momentum never shifted back.
Bradley and Feilhaber both agreed on what can be gained from the club’s first loss.
“The most important thing for us is that there are moments in football games where as a group you have to be resilient,” said LAFC’s coach.
The dominoes fell quickly after the Galaxy’s first goal — the home fans’ calls for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, his arrival, and the unreal moments he created with the game-tying and game-winning goals. But it all may have been different had the visiting team stuck to their guns.
“That can't happen again,” Feilhaber said. “We can't allow ourselves to change the way we play, because we know we can be very good when we play our style.”
Based on how dazzling LAFC appeared during most of their first 240 minutes in the league, that claim is hard to dispute.
Yet it’s those less-than-ideal 30 final minutes at StubHub — where the club sacrificed all three points and regional bragging rights for the time being — that give LAFC a chance to finally do something most expansion projects are forced to do earlier and often: learn.
“It's going to be important for us,” Bradley said. “This day is going to go a long way towards making us a really good team.”