LOS ANGELES — As German World Cup winner Lukas Podolski walked off the field Thursday night following Vissel Kobe's preseason match at Banc of California stadium, he hung his arm over the shoulder of a club staffer — LAFC’s Manager of Brand and Community Ben Chi — and specified the exact gear he wanted from the team store.
He might as well get a souvenir from a night he will remember not for the result, a 4-1 preseason defeat to LAFC, but instead for a special moment that occurred after the final whistle.
Once it sounded, the 33-year-old, Polish-born striker — who’d had stints at the likes of Arsenal, Bayern Munich, and Galatasaray before his move to Japan in 2017 — had just climbed the capo stand in the ground’s North End to pose for a picture with Carlos Vela and LAFC’s 3252 supporters.
“I always follow my Instagram and I saw about a couple months over the last year, LAFC doing good stuff,” he told MLSsoccer.com in an exclusive after the match. “I always follow them and I watched it.”
In a promotion video leading up to the match, Podolski revealed he’d been following the LAFC story through social media during their inaugural season and had an interest in the league itself at large.
“I watched some games, not only from LAFC, just the MLS." he said. "I’m always interested in the US. It’s a nice country for sports and I’m a sports guy. That’s why I follow it."
In his first visit to the city, Podolski had cruised through the streets of L.A. driving a classic convertible the day prior to the friendly and caught a Laker game at the Staples Center.
“The MLS, they are on a good way over the couple of years. They make a great step forward. It was great to see that not only basketball, football, or baseball is growing, [but] soccer is growing as well.”
Podolski’s teammate Andres Iniesta — who’d appeared close to an MLS move with NYCFC in the past — chimed in about the experience at The Banc:
"A great team, great field, great support,” said Iniesta in Spanish, following the match. “I know last year [LAFC] had a great year, a great season. They have players in their prime, like Carlos [Vela], that make a difference and young players who play at a good level. The club has a great future.”
Iniesta — who joined Vissel Kobe last summer after a storied career with FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team and has since been reunited with former New York City FC striker David Villa — talked about how competing against MLS clubs during preseason would help his new club prepare for their 2019 campaign, which runs on a similar calendar to the MLS.
He didn't bite on any suggestion he might make an MLS move, however.
"I’m not thinking about that at the moment," Iniesta said. "My head is with other things, Japan, Vissel [Kobe], my career with this team.”
As for Podolski? He left the door a bit more open.
“I had some [MLS] offers before I moved to Japan but I decided to take the challenge in Japan," he said. "I have more year left in Japan and after that I will see. I will talk to the club soon, around April, May or June, and then I have to take a decision.”