T-Time: LAFC hits MLS at the perfect time

This Sunday, Los Angeles Football Club begins its inaugural MLS season. They will face the defending Western Conference champions the Seattle Sounders, in a highly anticipated matchup.

Trevor Denton | Daily Trojan

In many ways, this is the absolute perfect time for a new MLS to hit the Los Angeles market. Longtime league poster-boys LA Galaxy (located in Carson) are becoming increasingly irrelevant. They captured championships in 2011, 2012 and 2014, but have struggled immensely since American soccer icon Landon Donavan initially retired. Last season, they finished dead last in the MLS standings, the club’s worst finish by a wide margin. Since being founded in 1996, they built up a reputation for bringing in top flight talent from around the world, such as David Beckham, Robbie Keane and, of course, Donavan. Now, their roster resembles that of a U-20 team.

If LA Galaxy continues slumping, LAFC should be able to immediately capture the hearts of fans in the area with relative ease. It certainly helps that in terms of interest, the MLS is popping right now. In their debut season last year, Atlanta United FC shattered attendance records (they sold out football stadiums!) and produced exciting soccer. Now, everybody from Beckham, who is helping fund a new team in Miami set to kick off in 2019 or 2020, to world famous DJ Diplo,  a partial owner of Phoenix Rising, which is a club hoping for an MLS bid in the near future, wants a piece of the pie.

With the future of American football becoming increasingly blurry due to safety concerns, numerous business people and celebrities are investing in soccer teams for cheap, expecting it to become the country’s next major sport. LAFC, with its high profile ownership group featuring Will Ferrell and Magic Johnson, is a by-product of this trend.

And they will undoubtedly generate buzz during its first season. Their roster likely won’t win any championships in the near future, but it should produce plenty of excitement. Mexican national team forward Carlos Vela will generate the most headlines as the team’s highest profile acquisition. Don’t confuse him for a typical big-name MLS import past his prime, however. At 28 years old, Vela still has quality soccer left in him and after bouncing around the English Premier League and La Liga (Spain’s top flight league), the MLS presents a chance for him to finally carve out a lasting legacy. Expect him to be more like Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco (he won the MVP award in 2015 after arriving from Italy) than, say, New York City FC’s Frank Lampard (he arrived well past his prime and retired after just 29 appearances). His abilities combined with his appeal to L.A.’s Mexican community should make him an instant fan favorite.

In addition to Vela, LAFC also possesses some exciting young players. Portuguese defender Joao Moutinho was selected No.1 overall in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft and he brings limitless potential with his ability to cross and even score from the left-back spot. Joining him is highly touted 19-year-old Diego Rossi, a Uruguayan forward who will likely end up competing in Europe sooner rather than later.

Leading Vela, Moutinho, Rossi and others will be Bob Bradley. The long-time head coach has been everywhere; he coached in the MLS’s first ever season, led the U.S. Men’s National Team for five years (from 2006-11) and became the first American to manage an English Premier League team in 2016, even if it was the shortest stint in the competition’s history. Now, he will embark on yet another exciting project: making sure LAFC starts off on the right foot in its first season.

LAFC possesses the roster, coach, front office and infrastructure to be a successful MLS club. When their brand new $350 million Banc of California Stadium opens its doors on April 21, expect there to be a packed crowd and palpable excitement.

But, for LAFC, the real test will come after their first season when they are no longer Los Angeles’ shiny, new sports team. In a market where NFL teams ironically struggle to fill up soccer venues (the Chargers played the 2017 season in StubHub Center, the LA Galaxy’s home), LAFC may have problems gaining a lasting fan base unless it produces winning seasons right away.

For now, LAFC has its city’s attention. Keeping it will be the much more difficult part.

Trevor Denton is a sophomore majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “T-Time,” runs Wednesdays.