An instant-classic MLS Cup 2022 has just passed. While it won’t soon fade from memory, that means all 29 teams now are fully in offseason mode, with St. Louis CITY SC joining the league. What will the offseason have in store for LAFC and Philly?
Here, we'll be covering three questions for every team moving forward. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club (LAFC version). Read that, too.
He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.
All the hard work all the teams put in. All the hope all harbor at the start of the year – real or imagined. All the ups and downs throughout the season. There can only be one team standing at the end. And this year it was LAFC.
LAFC won MLS Cup on Saturday over the Philadelphia Union after winning the Supporters’ Shield a month ago, the first team to do the Shield-Cup double since Toronto FC in 2017. They’ve been celebrating and will keep celebrating, as they should.
This is it, this is what we’re all here for… but the offseason has officially begun. So while continuing to smile about 2022, LAFC have an eye on 2023 and beyond.
Let’s get this out of the way first. After not making much of an impact (at all) after signing in the summer, and not playing an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs minute before coming off the bench in MLS Cup… Gareth Bale stepped up in a huge moment and delivered a huge goal to tie the game at 3-3 in the 128th (!!) minute and send it to penalties.
Bale has a track record of doing that, in Champions League Finals for Real Madrid and key international spots for Wales, who he just led to their first World Cup in 64 years.
Bale’s MLS Cup heroics was an awesome story and an awesome moment. The World Cup will be too, even if Wales go three-and-out in Group B. Just getting back there is great. Will that be it for his career? TBD.
The legendary winger is under contract through next summer. If LAFC pick up his option, he’d become a DP. Given his injury history and lack of minutes on the field, it’d be a stretch to imagine LAFC would want to make him a DP unless something drastically changes over the winter. His fit on the field with Carlos Vela is not great.
And, by all accounts, he’s struggling physically. Maybe he’ll retire after the World Cup to cap an incredible career. We’ll see.
For Jose Cifuentes, yes, my expectation is he’s played his last game for LAFC. There are a ton of clubs interested in the Ecuador international midfielder and he’ll be at the World Cup. LAFC aren’t likely to have a shortage of suitors to negotiate with.
Cifuentes arrived just before the U22 Initiative was officially in place, but he’s the exact reason that mechanism exists. Take a high-potential young player who you can sign and develop without using a DP spot. He’s here for a few years, blossoms into a star and then is moved to Europe for big money.
Diego Palacios is another player in this mold. Is the time (and offers) right for the left back to jump to Europe this winter as well? We’ll see. He’ll also be at the World Cup with Ecuador.
Ryan Hollingshead, their right-back starter in MLS Cup, is entering free agency. Sebastian Mendez, Franco Escobar and Sebastien Ibeagha – key depth pieces – are all out of contract too. Latif Blessing has a contract option. Kellyn Acosta has a contract option (a big one if he makes the USA World Cup squad, as is expected).
I said it all summer: For all the (rightful) excitement about Bale’s signing, don’t let Denis Bouanga go under the radar.
Bouanga’s profile (age, pedigree, goal contribution record in Ligue 1 with Saint-Étienne, fit in this LAFC attack) made him look like a potential star. Not all signings work out, of course, but the Gabon international seemed to have all the tools.
After the 27-year-old debuted, you could see the talent. It took a few weeks to adapt, but then he had some huge performances down the stretch – scoring the Shield-clinching goal and twice against rivals LA Galaxy in the Western Conference Semifinals. Bouanga gets to have a full offseason and preseason ahead of 2023. We might be looking at a star-turn.
Vela will always be the face of this team, the same way Diego Valeri was in Portland even as he entered his post-prime. But just like how Sebastian Blanco took over the chief attacking burden, Bouanga could do the same here.
A front three of Bouanga, Chicho Arango and Vela will be among the very best in MLS.
A few more thoughts: