TORONTO – The start of the 2018 MLS regular season may be more than a month away, but already the storylines for the upcoming year are starting to mount.
Players coming and going, new arrivals after massive intra-league trades, some teams doing all they can to rebuild or surge into the ever-precious playoff positions; others restocking and fine-tuning, looking to build off last season's successes.
And for expansion side, LAFC, a chance to establish an identity ahead of their inaugural season.
Their match portion of the 2018 MLS Preseason presented by Advocare opens with a difficult task: facing defending MLS Cup champions Toronto FC, who won every trophy they contested last year.
Friendly though it may be, this marks not only LAFC's first match, but also the first time that TFC midfielder Michael Bradley squares off against a team coached by his father, Bob Bradley.
“Unless I'm missing or forgetting something, I don't think I've ever played against one of his teams,” Michael Bradley said, before Toronto departed for preseason camp in Los Angeles.
He downplayed the importance of the occasion with a smile: “It's preseason.”
“I'm excited to see him, to, if we have a chance, spend a little bit of time together. More than that, for right now, there's nothing,” Bradley said. “[I'm] excited to see what his team looks like. Certainly from afar, I joked last year, for 33 games I'll be a big LAFC fan.”
That remaining regular-season match, the one that Michael Bradley will not be rooting for LAFC, comes with the expansion side's September 1 visit to BMO Field.
Friday's match (4 pm ET) will be held at the UCLA campus, where LAFC are training ahead of the completion of their permanent training facility at Cal State LA. Michael Bradley has already gotten a close look at Banc of California Stadium, LAFC's home ground, located in Los Angeles' Exposition Park.
“Over the holidays, my family and I were out there visiting [Bob] and my mom,” Bradley said. “He took [us] through the stadium – the kids were excited, they got to put on the hard hats.”
But not all is sunshine and roses between the two clubs.
LAFC have already twice played a hand in denying TFC. They were the team that snatched away Raheem Edwards in the Expansion Draft, before packaging him off to Toronto’s rivals, Montreal Impact. And they signed free agent Steven Beitashour after he spent two seasons in Ontario.
Back when it was announced that Bob would be taking the helm at LAFC, TFC head coach Greg Vanney laughed off the suggestion that Michael would be handing in a transfer request to join his father, emphasizing the project underway in Toronto.
Michael backed up that sentiment: “I'll certainly be watching closely, paying real attention, and rooting for them in a big way. Anything more than that … I'm so proud of what we have going on here, what we're building, that part will never change for me.”