Los Angeles FC look to make more history in Year Three: Season Preview

LAFC Preview Los Angeles FC
LOS ANGELES, CA — OCTOBER 29: Eduard Atuesta #20 of Los Angeles FC celebrates his goal during the MLS Western Conference Final between Los Angeles FC and Seattle Sounders at the Banc of California Stadium on October 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Seattle Sounders won the match 3-1 (Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images).

Editorial — There are less than 50 days left until the start of the new MLS campaign. However, for Los Angeles FC, their third season kicks-off sooner than that. After a historic year two, the Black and Gold come into 2020 looking to add to their 2019 Supporter’s Shield trophy. Los Angeles FC have a stacked 2020 season ahead. This preview details all you need to know, ahead of another, potentially historic, season.

Must-See Matches

The true response to this statement is all of them.

Last year failed to produce a “bad” LAFC match. Even if the result wasn’t what fans wanted, the matches were all entertaining. That said, this season promises even more excitement as Los Angeles FC embark on yet another first: the CONCACAF Champion’s League.

February 18th / 27th: Round of 16 vs León

Weeks prior to hosting MLS expansion side, Inter Miami, in their inaugural league match, LAFC will make a debut of their own. Their first ever CONCACAF Champion’s League match will take place Feb. 17, when they travel to Mexico to face La Liga MX side, León. Since the competition restructured to the Champion’s League in 2008, no MLS teams have come out victorious. LAFC not only have the talent to win it, but are once again motivated coming into the new season, after another disappointing end to last year’s league campaign.

July 25th / August 2nd: Back-to-Back against Seattle Sounders

If it wasn’t obvious before, this is a rivalry. LAFC’s first ever goal in the MLS, against the Seattle Sounders. Meanwhile, their first win at The Banc was against Seattle. Some of their most physical matches come against Seattle. As if the flames needed fanning, it was Seattle who ended LAFC’s title hopes last season, en route to the MLS Cup themselves.

This year both of their meetings come during a back-to-back, in the middle of summer, as the season enters the final stretch. There will certainly be postseason implications surely attached. Expect supporters on both sides to travel well, making for incredible atmospheres at both The Banc and CenturyLink.

August 16th: On the road against Atlanta United

These two teams will forever be linked, not just for their immediate popularity growth since entering MLS, but also for their similar offensive prowess. On their day, these two teams offer the most potent attacks in the league. In just their previous two meetings, they have scored a combined 12 goals. This time around will also act as a rubber-match of sorts, as Atlanta won their first meeting in 2018. Last year, LAFC defeating them at The Banc. If you like goals, this will be the match you can’t miss.

Expect several “wow” moments in this one.

May 16th / August 23rd: The Los Angeles Derby

Zlatan, or not, this will always be a set of matches that you have to watch. While it wasn’t until the postseason, LAFC finally defeated their in-county rivals, sending Zlatan Ibrahimović back to Europe, without achieving MLS Cup success. Expect the Galaxy to have added motivation, wanting to avenge their postseason defeat, as well as trying to reclaim the crown as kings of LA. The match with a thousand names will also have thousands of eyes watching. This rivalry continues to blossom in MLS.

2020 MLS SuperDraft

Round 1, Pick 24: GK Paulo Pita

LAFC drafting a goalkeeper was hardly that much of a surprise to those who’ve been following this team. The future of former number one, Tyler Miller, is still up in the air, with all signs pointing to Pablo Sisniega getting the start between the posts. If Miller is set to leave the club, more depth will be needed. Enter first-round pick, Marshall alum, Paulo Pita. The 6’3″ Brazilian had an incredible 2019 campaign. He finished 2019 with 74 saves, allowing just 20 goals while facing 226 shots.

Perhaps his most impressive trait when watching film is his patience. He is one of the few goalkeepers who show a perfect balance between coming out aggressively and letting the attack come to them, waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce for a save. Should he make the squad, he would be the perfect backup to Sisniega.

His reaction, agility and length make him a force in between the posts. Should he get the chance at the next level, it won’t take long for him to prove he belongs. Whether he makes the LAFC squad is almost dependent on whether Miller stays, or goes. However, if Paulo performs well, perhaps it makes the Miller decision that much easier.

Round 2, Pick 24:  ATT Jack Hallahan

The second-round pick from Michigan University is a bit of a long-shot to remain at LAFC long-term. Primarily used as a right winger throughout his career in Ann Arbor, the England native does bring a lot of raw talent and skill to an already stacked LA attack. What jumps out most about Jack Hallahan’s play is his ability to create. He has great dribbling skills, solid footwork and his passing into the box is almost always spot on. However, it’s what he lacks in terms of physical ability that may put him at a disadvantage.

While he is a somewhat physical forward, he lacks pace. He won’t blow past anyone with lightening speed, nor will he absolutely break ankles with five-star skill moves. In a squad like LAFC with the likes of Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, Latif Blessing and Brian Rodriguez, it’s hard to see Hallahan fitting in. It’s possible he makes a switch to midfield, playing the right side. However, it remains to be seen how well he would do defensively in one-on-one situations.

Meanwhile, it would still be a good move given his ability to pick out perfect passes and his knack for finding goals. His list of collegiate accolades is long. If given time, Hallahan could prove to be an excellent addition to the MLS. However, for a team balancing development of youth, with “win now” approach, you have to wonder if he’s given that time.

Roster Moves

Los Angeles will look the same for the most part, on the surface. However, a lot of movement amongst the depth has taken place. Hyped striker Rodolfo Zelaya has officially been sold to Mexican club Celaya FC. The Salvadorian made only four appearances for the black and gold, before finishing the 2019 season on loan with the Las Vegas Lights.

Defender Lamar Batista and midfielders Peter-Lee Vassell and Javier Perez all had options declined. Steven Beitashour remains a free agent. According to LA Times’ Kevin Baxter, Beitashour is not happy with what LAFC had to offer. However, the biggest departure came during the MLS Expansion Draft, when Inter Miami selected Lee Nguyen.

Along with departures come arrivals. Another young Uruguayan joins the black and gold, as the club announced the purchase of midfielder Francisco Ginella in mid-December. The midfield additions didn’t end there. LAFC just signed Ecuadorian José Cifuentes today.

While both may be young, both come with tons of international experience, as well as first-team experience within their respective clubs. Both players come with a fair amount of buzz amongst supporters. Also, both will look to join the ranks of young, impactful players within the squad.

Prediction

My all too early, all too brief prediction for LAFC in 2020 is this: be afraid. Last season showed everyone what a motivated LAFC can do. This season will be no different. Having failed to achieve MLS Cup success, this team will still be on a mission to add to their trophy cabinet.

In addition to MLS Cup glory, they now get to add, “first MLS team to win the Concacaf Champion’s League” to their list of goals. Far from resting on laurels, this team will look to build on last year’s historic run. Only this time, they hope to see more silver at the end.

 

Los Angeles FC Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images

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