LOS ANGELES – After months of comparisons, two of the most recent three MLS expansion teams, LAFC and Atlanta United FC, will square off for the first time at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday (5 pm ET | ESPN - full TV & streaming info).
“I think it’s a great team,” LAFC forward Carlos Vela said after training earlier this week. “They play really good. They have young players, strong players, quick players.”
The Mexican international was talking about Atlanta United but he just as easily could have been referring to his own side’s performances so far.
The two sides have each cultivated a fervent fan base. Both opted to sign younger Designated Players instead of going with bigger stars in their later years (aside from Vela, who still has several good years ahead of him at just 29). Even their kits share similar colors.
“I think there are some similarities,” said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley ahead of his team’s first trip to an Eastern Conference opponent. “Obviously they started last year with some exciting attacking players, they had some games early on where they scored goals and created excitement.”
For many, whether 2018 is successful expansion season for LAFC will depend on how they measure up to Atlanta United’s impressive 2017 expansion campaign that saw them become the first expansion side to make the playoffs since Seattle in 2009.
The backbone of ATLUTD’s success thus far has been their home form. While their supporters smashed MLS attendance records in the stands, the Five Stripes knocked in goal after goal against visiting teams, outscoring opponents 49 to 19 at home. They dropped points only six times at home with two losses and one draw at Bobby Dodd Stadium and one loss and two draws once they opened Mercedes-Benz Stadium in September.
“Atlanta has been super at home,” said LAFC defender Steven Beitashour. “There is just something about playing in front of their home crowd. Whether it’s their field, that stadium, they have a buzz to them so it’s going to be tough place to play.”
Beitashour put in a full 90 for Toronto FC when the soon-to-be 2017 MLS Cup champions earned a 2-2 stalemate at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on the final day of the 2017 regular season.
As that result indicated, if Atlanta United do have a weakness — at home or on the road — it might be their ability to get results after conceding.
The last time Atlanta won a game in which they conceded was July 4. Considering that LAFC have scored in each of their first three games, if Atlanta United can’t stop their offensive form they may be in trouble — home crowd or not.
“When you are winning, you think all is good, you are dreaming, you know, but it’s not real,” Vela added. “The only thing I said to the team is [what happened Saturday] can’t happen again.”
Bradley agreed, reminding reporters that all comparisons to Atlanta United are moving targets as LAFC’s debut season is still nascent.
“We start with some excitement, but we still know there are a lot of things that need to happen to be more complete, to manage games better, to connect passes better, have more possession, all this kind of stuff. We’re not the complete deal by any means,” he said.