LAFC Schedule Release: Season Breakdown
The 2019 MLS regular season schedule was released about one week ago and I am sure everyone is just as excited as I am, especially because now we know when and where LAFC will be playing. The regular season will begin in March and will conclude in October, giving us 34 matches in 8 months’ time (17 home games and 17 road games). If LAFC were to clinch a playoff spot in the MLS Playoffs, they would have to potentially win 3 games in October to reach the MLS Cup Final on November 10th.
I have taken the time to break down the schedule for LAFC and have come to the conclusion that in order for LAFC to achieve success in the regular season, they will have to consider three important factors: Player management, international call-ups and roster depth. I will go over the meaning and importance of these during the article.
LAFC kick-off their season on March 3rd at home versus Sporting KC, one of only two teams that have been able to beat them at Banc of California Stadium. Kansas City was also the team that caused LAFC to miss out on a bye-week in the MLS Playoffs last year after a 2-1 victory in the last game of the season. If that is not enough motivation to get a win in the home-opener, I don’t know what is.
The good news for LAFC is that the first five matches of the season will not require much travel. During that time period, all of their games will be played in California (at San Jose on March 30th), with the exception of a St. Patrick’s Day showdown in New York City versus NYCFC.Three of the first four games will be played at home, including a match vs RSL (the team that eliminated LAFC from MLS Playoffs last year). This will hopefully allow LAFC to transition from preseason mode to full throttle in a smoothly manner.
The months of April and May will keep the coaches and trainers busy by testing their capacity in proving my first point: player management. During the spring, LAFC will play a total of 10 games in just under 50 days! In some instances, LAFC will have in what I like to call mini-tours, where they play an overwhelming amount of games in a short period of time. For example, from April 13-April 28, LAFC play 4 games in just 15 days, including a midweek game in Canada. They travel from Los Angeles to Vancouver (their only trip to Canada this season), back to Los Angeles and then to Seattle. In addition, from May 11-May 24, LAFC play 4 games in even less time, 13 days. They fly from LA to Columbus, back to LA and then to Dallas before arriving back in Los Angeles.
Player management will be very important for LAFC to become successful, especially during the first three months of the season. Performance coaches, athletic trainers and physical trainers will have their hands full as they try and keep the players at top-fitness and away from injuries. Bob Bradley must be very careful in not overworking his lads with heavy minutes and potentially risking a hamstring or adductor strain. With a couple mid-week games in April/May, Bradley needs to be mindful of his player’s playing time and manage their minutes accordingly.
LAFC will host Montreal at Banc of California Stadium on May 24th and will not play another home game until 42 days later. Why? Not only are their next three games on the road, but Bancof California Stadium will play host to a couple of group-stage matches for the 2019 Gold Cup in the month of June. In addition, MLS will take a break from June 14-June 21 during the opening week of the CONCACAF tournament.
LAFC fans will need to make the most out of the month of May because it is the last time they will be able to see their team at home and their international stars with the Black & Gold until mid-July. This leads me to my next point in explaining international call-ups regarding LAFC and how it will affect the team.
LAFC has quite a few players that are up for selection in their respective national teams. Some have more of a chance to get called-up than others but nonetheless, it is a possibility that LAFC has to be prepared for. Tyler Miller, Walker Zimmerman, and Christian Ramirez for the U.S., Carlos Vela for Mexico, Mark-Anthony Kaye for Canada and recently drafted Peter-Lee Vassell for Jamaica are the six possible absences that LAFC may have to deal with once the Gold Cup is underway.
After the May 24th home game, LAFC are on the road three consecutive times. They fly to Portland on June 1st and then get 4-weeks “rest” due to the Gold Cup schedule. However, LAFC will begin their quest for the U.S. Open Cup during this time period and hopefully make it all the way through the final in September. They resume their travels on June 28th when they go to Colorado and then to Kansas City five days later. The game in Portland will be the last game before internationals leave for duty and will return once their country’s participation in the tournament has culminated. For the most part, all players should be available to return for the July 12th game in Houston.
With only two games scheduled for the month of June, LAFC return in July with a favorable late of matches. Three of the four games before the All-Star Break will be played in Southern California. From July 6-July 27, LAFC will only have to get on a plane once when they visit Houston in mid-July. Other than that, LAFC host Vancouver, drive down the road to Carson for the derby and then host the defending MLS champions Atlanta United.
Depending on how the season progresses, LAFC may have a few players selected for the MLS All-Star Game in Orlando. It is too early to say but Vela remains a strong candidate to repeat as an All-Star and maybe a few others make the trip with him to Orlando, who knows. Nonetheless, All-Star selections would fly from LA to Orlando, play on a Wednesday, travel back to LA and ultimately go to Foxborough to play the New England Revolution on Saturday that same week. Again, Bradley will need to manage the player’s minutes responsibly, considering that they might still be playing in the U.S. Open Cup as well.
After the All-Star break, the schedule is a little friendlier than it was before as it includes more home games (7 of the last 12 games are at the Banc). For example, LAFC play 5 games from August 11-September 1, with four of them being at the Banc. That includes three consecutive home matches versus San Jose, Carson and Minnesota. The months of August and September will most likely include elimination Open Cup games, whether it is the quarterfinals, semifinals or the final. Assuming that LAFC will make a playoff run during the last stretch of the season, the front office will have to start planning now and make sure that the roster is deep enough to cover for any injury, suspension or international call-ups. This brings me to my next point regarding roster depth in the squad.
With some players having already played up to 40 games by September, there will be tired legs. I cannot emphasize roster depth enough due to how unpredictable soccer is with injuries and suspensions. I am not sure on what the front office has planned between now and March but they definitely have some spaces to fill. They also have the option to make moves on the run during the season in case of emergency but we hope everyone can stay healthy for the entire year.
Of the last 4 games of the season, 3 of them are at home (Toronto, Houston and Colorado). The only trip they have is a visit to Minnesota United in late September. Therefore, LAFC should have an advantage towards the end as far as securing a playoff spot in front of their home crowd. Unlike last year, LAFC get to start and end the regular season at Banc of California Stadium, which is always a good thing for the players and for the fans. The last game of the regular season will be played on Sunday October 6th versus Colorado Rapids.
MLS Playoffs will begin on October 19th and we hope that LAFC will be part of them. The reason why the playoffs start two weeks after the end of the regular season is because there is a FIFA international break in between. Therefore, if LAFC were to clinch the No.1 seed in the Western Conference, they would get a two-week bye due to the break.
In conclusion, we are all excited for the new season to begin in March. We all miss being at the Banc cheering on our beloved Black & Gold. We just hope that this season will be even better than the last, which was in its own right remarkable for an expansion team. As long as LAFC as whole can focus on the three factors that I mentioned in player management, international call-ups and roster depth, LAFC should be on their way to another successful season.
January 13, 2019
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