LAFC's successful road trip paves way for stadium opening
While all the talk this week is focused on the grand opening of LAFC's shiny new Banc of California Stadium, it should also be noted that the expansion team is returning home from a successful road trip to start the season.
LAFC opened with six road games, winning four and collecting 12 points . The results included a 1-0 victory at Seattle in the season opener and a 5-3 victory over the Impact in Montreal last weekend.
It was the most successful lengthy season-opening road trip in league history. In 2016, Toronto collected 11 points on an eight-game trip.
"We are working really hard," said forward Carlos Vela, the franchise's flashy first signing. "Of course, at the start of the season we said, 'Maybe if we win two or three games it could be good because we are on the road.' And after, we won four. So it was more than we expected. I think it shows the work, because the team is working very hard."
Other teams that started the season with long road trips didn't fare so well.
While construction was going on for the eventual expansion of Providence Park, the Timbers opened the season with a five-game road trip and lost each one. The 2015 MLS Cup champions have since returned home and won the past two games, including a 3-0 victory over New York City on Sunday. NYCFC was undefeated coming into the match.
Head coach Giovanni Savarese said the turnaround was part of a progression — and of course the incredible home-field advantage the Timbers have at Providence Park.
"First, home is different, because of our fans. But we've been progressing game after game. From Dallas to Orlando, we've been growing every match. The past match against Minnesota, and now today, finally, a complete match in which the team was very disciplined," Savarese said. "But we're home. The crowd, our fans are fantastic here. They are that extra energy that we need on a constant basis and it's incredible to play at home."
The struggle is real for D.C. United, who are making the move into new digs after 22 years at historic RFK Stadium. But the team's new soccer-specific venue won't be ready until July 14 so the team is playing the bulk of its games on the road with a couple of matches at the Maryland Soccerplex and the Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
The team is 1-3-2 so far this season. Following a 2-2 draw with the Dynamo at the Soccerplex on March 17, Houston's DeMarcus Beasley was critical on Twitter.
"Just when I thought MLS was getting better in every aspect, todays 'conditions' were unacceptable!! From the locker room to the 'training' room (which was jus(t) an area blocked by curtains next to the vending machines) kids volleyball goin(g) on, it was a circus. #unacceptable," Beasley wrote. He did not comment on the conditions of the field.
United fared better earlier this month when they defeated the Columbus Crew in Annapolis for their lone win of the season. The team visits Philadelphia this weekend to start an eight-game road trip before opening Audi Field on July 14 against the Whitecaps.
GAME OF THE WEEK: So it's hard to pick a bigger game with the hoopla surrounding the opening of $350 million Banc of California Stadium. The moment has been in the works since the league awarded the franchise in 2014. LAFC has already sold its allotted 17,500 season tickets for the 22,000-seat stadium that sits on the site of the former Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.
Sunday night's game against the Sounders will be on national television. A pre-party is already sold out.
Vela said it's about time.
"Finally, we can be a team, you know? We always have to play away, we travel. I think it's difficult," he said after the victory over Montreal. "I don't feel like a normal team. Now we have an exciting week. I hope we can start well, we can win and we can enjoy it."
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Sporting Kansas City's Johnny Russell earned Player of the Week honors after scoring three goals in a 6-0 rout of the Whitecaps last weekend. The Scottish forward has five goals through eight games this season.
RUMORS: The biggest rumor this week swirled around New York City FC coach Patrick Vieira and the vacancy at Arsenal, where he played from 1996 to 2005.
After the loss to the Timbers, Vieira steadfastly refused to comment. But at a ceremony Monday to open the team's new training facility in Orangeburg, New York, Vieira said he was flattered his name was linked to Arsenal but he had not been contacted regarding the job.
"Of course, because you're talking about Arsenal Football Club, and it's a big football club, it's an honor, but I have never been in touch," he told ESPN.