LOS ANGELES – Club brass are quietly thrilled with the start to the Los Angeles Football Club’s inaugural season, believing the team has quickly forged a dynamic personality and are confident the club will contend for silverware all year.
Whether that comes to pass isn't going to determine if year one was a success, though. LAFC have built a solid foundation, opened a beautiful stadium and state-of-the-art training facilities, corralled a passionate fan base and played entertaining soccer, and that's worth celebrating no matter how things play out.
Bob Bradley has guided LAFC (8-4-3) to third place in the Western Conference, five points off Sporting Kansas City's lead and two points behind FC Dallas, and has them on target to become just the fifth expansion team to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs in their first campaign (sixth if you include the Houston Dynamo in that tally).
“We're just interested in playing good football and getting results as we go. If that ends up with us in the playoffs, it would be terrific,” club president Tom Penn (pictured above) told MLSsoccer.com. “It's really difficult for an expansion team typically to make the playoffs – we all know that – and there's a reason for that.”
Atlanta United last year turned on its head the notion of what an expansion team can be, and LAFC have followed that blueprint – constructing an exciting, attack-minded side and emphasizing community outreach to built a large and loyal following – nearly to perfection.
It's just a first act.
“So good so far, right?” said Penn, who is also part of LAFC's ownership group. “We have a long ways to go.
“But in terms of launching the club, and opening the stadium and making sure it worked, and then with the way the 3252 [supporters section] have put [Banc of California Stadium] on the map – they've got the soul and the immediate passion and energy – and then I'm just thrilled with the team's performance so far … just seeing how the roster's been assembled and the consistent work is going on and the way it's transitioning into results and excitement.”
LAFC took 12 points from six road games to start the season and are unbeaten at home. Carlos Vela, now at the World Cup with Mexico, is among MLS's most deadly attackers and has built a nice relationship with fellow Designated Player Diego Rossi. Veteran units in midfield and at the back have been strong, and the in-season additions of Adama Diomande, Lee Nguyen and next month, Andre Horta, have strengthened what had been questionable depth while adding to the team's quality.
“Our goal was to be competitive,” said former MLS midfielder John Thorrington, LAFC’s general manager and executive vice president of soccer operations. “I think we've achieved that, and then, as with any good goal-setting process, you recalibrate as you go.
“I think we've laid a foundation to have a very successful season this year. We take it game by game, we're not complacent about success that's come before, and we know we're going to need to improve to challenge in the way we want to this year.”
Thorrington said he's impressed with how things came together under Bradley.
“I think from day one, you saw a clear identity of who we are, what we're about, and to achieve that [so quickly] is remarkable to me. That consistency of how we play and what we're about – and being what we said we were going to be from day one – [is an accomplishment].”
The playoffs are the aim, among other things, but they're not the end all, be all.
“I think every team's goals in preseason is to make the playoffs, win MLS Cup, and win the Open Cup, and we're no different,” Thorrington said. “We block off these phases of the season to see what we wanted to achieve in each of them, and then you recalibrate your goals. You don't know how quickly will a guy like Mark-Anthony Kaye or Diego [Rossi] will assimilate into MLS. All these things you don't know, and now we know. And then we say, 'OK, well then that means we should therefore look to achieve this.'
“We have said we want to be competitive. I think now when I look at our team, I think we have what it takes to be a playoff team.”