LAFC embark on their first CONCACAF Champions League venture this February. The competition offers an opportunity to make history, something the flashy two-year-old organisation will be keen to achieve.
The CONCACAF Champions League has been a longstanding mountain that Major League Soccer teams have failed to climb. Since the restructuring of the competition in 2008, no MLS team has won the competition.
During that time, every winner has hailed from Mexico while only three runners-up have come from MLS, Real Salt Lake in 2011, the Montreal Impact in 2015, and Toronto FC in 2018. In fact, there have 44 semi-finalists since 2008. Only nine have been from MLS.
The CCL is the premier club competition in the CONCACAF region. Like the Champions League in Europe, it pits the best domestic teams against one another. It is somewhat telling and significant that an MLS team has never toppled their Mexican counterparts.
But this year, arguably the best MLS team of all time prepares for their first venture into CONCACAF competition. After winning the Supporters’ Shield with a record points total in 2019, Los Angeles FC return to action in 2020 looking to make history. And they have every right to expect such achievements.
Speaking to mlssoccer.com this weekend, LAFC general manager and EVP of soccer operations John Thorrington stated:
"“Step 1 was to get to MLS, Step 2 was to qualify for the Champions League and Step 3 is to have success and win it. When we mapped out this organization’s goals and objective from day one — which was many years ago — the thought of really making an impact in the global football landscape was a lofty target of ours, [excelling in CCL] would go some way to achieving that.”"
Like with Atlanta United before them and with Inter Miami this year, LAFC have made it quite clear: they are not happy with being the best team in MLS; they want to be a globally recognised and revered team. And as Thorrington rightly highlights, if they are to achieve that standard, they must succeed in the CCL.
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Whether they can do that this season remains to be seen. As Atlanta proved last year, your first season in the CCL is no easy task, despite the natural talent of your team. And LAFC have been handed a brutal draw that includes Club Leon, likely Cruz Azul in the quarter-finals, and then either America or Atlanta just to get to the final.
But if there is a team in MLS that is capable of topping off three of the premier domestic sides in the CONCACAF region in successive rounds, it is one that features Carlos Vela, arguably the best player in the region, a brilliant central midfield trio, and Diego Rossi.
This would be a historic achievement for the Black and Gold, a team intent on making MLS history. They already have the greatest regular season. They may have missed out in the playoffs, but one-game knockout is not a very accurate way to determine a team’s genuine capabilities. The regular season, and the larger sample size it entails, is. And that was where LAFC were dominant.
For Bob Bradley, then, history beckons. He and his players have the chance to etch themselves into the MLS record books. And they might just take it.