The Philadelphia Union will take on expansion club Los Angeles FC for the first time ever when they meet in California on Saturday evening.
LAFC are well positioned to make the playoffs in their inaugural season. They are in third place in the Western Conference, with 27 points after 15 matches. How are they finding success in their first year of play? Are they doing what the Union will never do, spending their way to the top?
Not exactly. They made an initial splash by hiring former U.S. Men’s National Team manager Bob Bradley, but the expansion club is taking a more measured approach to building its team. But even though they haven’t pursued marquee names like NYCFC did with David Villa and Frank Lampard, they did sign two Designated Players before the season started. One of them isn’t exactly a name that most American soccer fans would have recognized: Uruguayan forward Diego Rossi. The second, however, many Americans will know: Mexican national team forward Carlos Vela, who hasn’t disappointed so far. Vela has scored seven goals in 12 matches.
They also acquired former U.S. Men’s National Team regular Benny Feilhaber, potential future USMNT regular Walker Zimmerman, and stud Belgian centerback Laurent Ciman. LAFC also ended up being the new club for former New England midfielder Lee Nguyen, who had been playing the role of super-sub. They will be adding a third DP in Portuguese midfielder Andre Horta next month.
But Horta isn’t here yet, and fortunately for the Boys in Blue, both Vela and Ciman are in Russia playing in the FIFA World Cup. That doesn’t mean getting a result on Saturday will be an easy task. Two players do not make a team, and LAFC have yet to lose at home. This is a good team on paper, and a good team on the pitch.
The Union are coming off what might have been their best performance of the season so far with their 4-0 win over a travel-weary Vancouver Whitecaps squad last week. But this time, they will be the team that has to endure a cross-country flight. Haris Medujanin still has another game left in his suspension after going ape-shit on a referee on June 2nd, but Warren Creavalle filled in admirably last week and should get another opportunity to log some minutes. And you never know, Union head coach Jim Curtin may surprise us by sitting the slumping C.J. Sapong and giving Cory Burke a start up top. I would bet a dollar or two that it will be Sapong in the starting XI, because that’s what Curtin always does.
Borek Dockal will be coming off a strong performance that gave him an MLS Player of the Week award, and Ilsinho has been looking good lately too. Hopefully last week’s mojo travels to California with the rest of the team. The Union have struggled on the road, so they will need it.
Normally, I would be hesitant to pick anything but a loss for the Union on a long road trip, but with Vela and Ciman out of town, and with Dockal finally being adjusted to MLS, I can see the Boys in Blue taking home a point. Prediction: Union 1, LAFC 1.