New York City FC will finally have a permanent home after the club announced plans for a 25,000-capacity venue in the Willets Point neighborhood in Queens.
The club announced the partnership with New York City mayor Eric Adams and the Queens Development Group at a press conference on Wednesday. The project will be privately funded and will also include 2,500 units of affordable housing, a hotel and retail space.
The stadium will be in the heart of a sporting district. It will share a subway with the New York Mets’ CitiField and the USTA’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the US Open. New York’s other MLS team, the Red Bulls, play in Harrison, New Jersey.
NYC FC joined MLS in 2015 and won MLS Cup last season, but have played most of their home games at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The baseball venue has been criticized as unsuitable for soccer, with the field sitting awkwardly in the stadium’s dimensions. However, some saw the unconventional layout as a bonus.
“Yankee Stadium looks a lot worse on TV than in person, in my opinion, and I love my seats there in section 135 below the supporters’ section,” NYC FC fan Björn Bellenbaum told the Guardian in May. “I take my kids to the games, they’re teenagers now but for the first few years standing room/general admission wasn’t really an option. But we do get into it so we like to be close to the supporters’ section, so that area of seats below the bleachers is perfect and obviously wouldn’t exist in that way in a soccer stadium.”
The fact that the club was unable to find a permanent home in its first seven years of existence in one of the largest sporting markets in the world was seen by many as an embarrassment to the team and MLS. That argument now appears to be over: the project is expected to be completed by 2027.
A reserve goalkeeper entering just his third Major League Soccer match of the season enabled the Los Angeles Football Club to win the MLS Cup.
Jack McCarthy stopped two penalty kicks as LAFC defeated the Philadelphia Union on penalties, 3-0, after playing to a 3-3 draw after 120 minutes in front of 22,384 at the Banc of California Stadium.
McCarthy, who entered the game in the 117th minute when starter Maxime Crepeau received a red card, stopped two of the Union’s three spot kicks. McCarthy dived to his right to deny Jose Martinez, then dived to his left to deflect Kai Wagner’s attempt.
As a result of his unexpected efforts, McCarthy was voted the game’s most valuable player.
Daniel Gazdag, the first of Philadelphia’s penalty takers, launched his shot high over the crossbar. Gazdag tied for second among league scorers during the regular season with 22 goals.
Denis Bouanga, Ryan Hollingshead and Ilie Sanchez converted for Los Angeles, with Sanchez’s shot bouncing under diving goalkeeper Andre Blake to give his club the championship.
Crepeau was expelled in the 117th minute after tripping the Union’s Cory Burke on a breakaway. Crepeau charged off his line and tripped Burke while out of the penalty area. Both players went sprawling, and Crepeau had to leave the field on a motorized card. But while leaving, the Canadian international gave a “thumbs up” sign to the home fans.
The Union rallied from a 2-1 deficit to take a 3-2 lead in the 124th minute. Wagner sent a cross from the right wing that hit Sanchez near the goal line. McCarthy deflected the ball but Jack Elliott scored from two yards.
But four minutes later, Wales international Gareth Bale tied the score. Bale, who replaced Carlos Vela in the 97th minute, converted a seven-yard header off Diego Palacios’ right-wing cross.
LAFC used Kellyn Acosta’s 26-yard free kick in the 28th minute to move ahead, 1-0. After the Union’s Jose Martinez fouled Cristian Arango, Acosta’s free kick ricocheted off the head of Philadelphia’s Jack McGlynn, who leapt with the defensive wall. Blake, playing the expected angle, found himself out of position as the ball trickled between him and the left post.
After the goal, Martinez used his jersey to hide the bottom half of his face.
McGlynn started for midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, the Union’s captain. Bedoya injured his hip flexor on 17 September against Atlanta and missed three of the ensuing five matches, including the final and the 20 October playoff match against FC Cincinnati.
Gazdag tied the score in the 59th minute. Wagner began the scoring sequence with a left-wing corner kick that LAFC’s Jesus Murillo headed away. But Philadelphia’s Olivier Mbaizo secured the ball at midfield and passed to Martinez, who found an unmarked Gazdag in the penalty area. Gazdag beat his marker and converted a rising 11-yard shot that settled under the crossbar.
LAFC regained a 2-1 lead in the 83rd minute. Vela’s corner kick from the right wing found Jesus Murillo, whose glancing header from just outside right side of the goalkeeper’s crease settled inside the far post. But two minutes later, the visitors again tied the score. Wagner sent his 38-yard free kick from the right wing to Elliott, whose 10-yard header beat Crepeau.
Not since 2003 has MLS Cup been contested between two No 1 seeds. The Major League Soccer playoffs almost always produce shocks, but Saturday’s showpiece between Los Angeles FC and the Philadelphia Union was predicted by many to materialise. If LAFC have been the unstoppable force in 2022, Philly have been the immovable object. In terms of quality, the 2022 MLS Cup final has the potential to be the best ever.
Steve Cherundolo and Jim Curtin are probably the best two head coaches in MLS too. LAFC and Philly will have plenty of star power to showcase down the road from Hollywood this weekend, but the men on the touchline deserve top billing – they are the reason their teams have made it this far.
In Curtin’s case, that is certainly true. The Philadelphia Union have the second-lowest wage bill ($10.36m) in MLS, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming an Eastern Conference superpower – Philly won the Supporters’ Shield in 2020 and made the conference final last season as second seeds. That success has earned Curtin a reputation as one of the sharpest tacticians working in the American game.
Philly could, and perhaps should, have won the Supporters’ Shield this year too, only losing out to LAFC on number of wins when almost every other league in the world uses goal difference as a tiebreaker. The Union, not LAFC, may well be MLS’s most complete team having finished the regular season with the best attacking and defensive record.
The eight years of Curtin’s Philadelphia Union tenure haven’t all been as successful as the last few. In fact, the 43-year-old insists he was close to being fired as recently as 2018 when Philly won just two of nine fixtures to open the season. Had they lost to Montreal in a match in May of that year, Curtin might not have lasted. “I bet money if I lost that game, I was fired. You could feel it,” he said. The Union won, however, and Curtin is now the second longest-serving MLS manager.
Victory on Saturday would be the culmination of Curtin’s time as Philadelphia Union head coach, the end point of a long process that has turned Philly into a ferocious high-pressing, high-energy outfit capable of running through opponents at will. However, these traits are also shared by Los Angeles FC who are similarly reflective of their head coach.
Compared to that of Curtin, Cherundolo’s managerial path has been short, reaching MLS Cup in his first season as LAFC coach. Unlike Curtin, the USMNT defender inherited a squad with the talent to compete, but his appointment at the start of the year came amid challenging circumstances. Many expected a rebuild after the apparent end of a cycle under Bob Bradley.
Rather than rebuilding Bradley’s team, though, Cherundolo revitalised it. He opted for evolution over revolution, retaining much of the tactical framework that had made LAFC so successful for so long. This was coupled with a shrewd approach to recruitment from general manager John Thorrington who brought in proven MLS performers (like Kellyn Acosta) at the start of the year to provide a solid foundation and added to it with star names (like Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini) signed in the summer.
“If you look at the style and the success that LAFC had in the first four years, it was great,” Cherundolo said. “I think I would be pretty naive to try to change all that.” Bradley’s fingerprints are still all over this team, but Cherundolo’s pragmatism was exactly what the club needed to move forward again.
Neither Cherundolo’s nor Curtin’s reputation will be made or broken by what happens at Banc of California Stadium on Saturday, but glory for either of them will be emblematic of a new, rising generation of American soccer coaches. The USMNT’s current crop of players is the strongest the country has ever produced and the same could be said of its managers.
It’s not just Cherundolo and Curtin who make up this new generation. Josh Wolff has caught the eye, taking Austin FC from second-bottom of the West to the conference final in the space of just 12 months, while Pat Noonan has turned FC Cincinnati from Wooden Spoon winners into playoff threats in the same timeframe. LA Galaxy’s Greg Vanney has also achieved a lot in MLS for a manager who is still only 48.
These names would almost certainly be mentioned as potential USA head coaches should the 2022 World Cup go badly for Gregg Berhalter and his team. Berhalter is already under pressure with many fans fearful of a disappointing showing in Qatar. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that a change could happen after the World Cup and the sight of Cherundolo or Curtin lifting MLS Cup this weekend might provide some comfort that the future of American soccer may well still be in good hands.
Thanks to Cristian “Chicho” Arango, Los Angeles Football Club are headed to the MLS Cup final for the first time. Arango scored the go-ahead goal for the second straight game on Sunday in LAFC’s 3-0 victory over Austin FC in the Western Conference final.
LAFC, who won the Supporters Shield as the top team in the regular season, will host the Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon. LAFC have won 11 of their last 12 matches (including the postseason) at home.
It is the first time since Toronto in 2017 that the Supporters Shield winner has reached the MLS championship game.
“Our guys did an emphatic job,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said. “That was the best I have seen implementing our match play from the beginning to the end. I’m very proud of the guys, but what I experienced in the locker room was hunger and a want for more.”
Arango headed in a cross from Carlos Vela in the 29th minute to put LAFC on top. The forward has scored in 26 of the 52 MLS games he has played since making his debut in August of last season. He is an MVP finalist after scoring 30 regular-season goals.
“It was fundamental that our team come out with compact pressure. We were all assertive. That was so we could go into the half with the lead,” Arango said after the game.
In the second half, Maximiliano Urruti scored an own goal and substitute Kwadwo Opoku added a score in the late stages.
After Urruti’s own goal in the 62nd minute, Opoku took advantage of a turnover and put a left-footed shot past Austin goalkeeper Brad Stuver.
“A lot of credit goes to LAFC, they made it difficult for us,” Austin coach Josh Wolff said. “They’ve been the best team the entire year and this was another example of that. They didn’t give us a chance to breathe or build up.”
Austin FC finished in second place in the Western Conference in their second season in MLS and had a 16-10-8 record during the regular season.
“There is so much pride with what we’ve been able to build in two years. We’re going to need to keep building on that next year,” Wolff said.
Philadelphia Union 3-1 New York City FC
Julian Carranza and Daniel Gazdag scored two minutes apart in the second half and the Philadelphia Union advanced to their first MLS Cup final with a 3-1 victory over New York City FC. Cory Burke also scored in the conference final for the Union, who were unbeaten in 19 matches at home this season.
Gazdag appeared to score for the Union in the 16th minute, but was offside. It was scoreless at the half before Maxi Moralez’s sublime strike that sailed past Andre Blake to put NYCFC in front 1-0 in the 57th minute.
The Union tied it up in the 65th with Carranza’s first career playoff goal. Moments later, Carranza directed a header to Gazdag, who scored to give Philadelphia the lead. Burke added a third goal in the 76th.
It was the second straight year the teams reached the Eastern Conference final. Last season, the Union were without 11 players because of Covid-19 protocols and NYCFC won 2-1. New York City went on to defeat the Portland Timbers in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw for the MLS Cup championship.
Cristian ‘Chico’ Arango scored in the third minute of second-half stoppage time and the Los Angeles Football Club advanced to the Western Conference final in the MLS Cup playoffs on Thursday night with a 3-2 victory over rival LA Galaxy in the latest dramatic edition of the rivalry known as El Tráfico.
Kellyn Acosta directed a corner kick toward the middle of the box. Denis Bouanga, who scored twice, fired a shot that Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Bond saved, but Arango was there for the rebound and scored in the 93rd minute.
LAFC, which captured the league’s Supporter’s Shield as the top team during the regular season, will host the winner of Austin FC and FC Dallas on 30 October for the right to advance to MLS Cup on 5 November.
Bouanga has three goals in eight games since signing from France Ligue 2 club Saint-Etienne,
Samuel Grandsir and Dejan Joveljic scored for the Galaxy.
Bouanga scored the match’s first goal in the 23rd minute when he got the pass from Carlos Vela, outbodied Galaxy midfielder Diego Costa from six yards out with a strike into the far right corner of the net.
The goal came at the end of a 19-pass sequence. The forward ran near the corner and did a front flip to celebrate the score.
The Galaxy evened it by taking advantage of a turnover. LAFC’s Eddie Segura was unable to clear the ball out of box with a header, before Grandsir grabbed the rebound and fired a right-footed shot from near the back of the box into the bottom left corner of the net.
It was Grandsir’s third goal in six matches against LAFC and second this season.
Bouanga put LAFC ahead in the 80th minute when he tucked it into the near post. Kwadwo Opoku was unable to finish after sliding to get the crossing pass, but Bounanga was there to knock it in after Bond originally tried to stop Opoku.
The Galaxy leveled it at 2-2 five minutes later when Joveljic, who came on as a sub in the 84th minute, fired a rocket past Maxime Crépeau into the top right corner.
LAFC had a 14-11 advantage in shots and 5-4 lead in shots on goal. Bond and Crépeau each made two saves.
Philadelphia Union 1-0 FC Cincinnati
Leon Flach scored his first goal of the season on Thursday night in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, and the top-seeded Philadelphia Union beat fifth-seeded Cincinnati 1-0.
Philadelphia, who are unbeaten at Subaru Park this year (13-0-5), will face the winner of Sunday’s New York City FC-Montreal match in the conference finals.
Flach scored in the 59th minute. Mikael Uhre beat two defenders to a loose ball in front of the net and sent it to the penalty spot for Flach’s one-touch finish.
Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake recorded his 16th clean sheet of the season. Blake made five saves, including a diving stop of Brandon Vazquez’s breakaway shot in the 83rd.
Cincinnati, coming off a win over the New York Red Bulls, were seeking to become the third expansion team in MLS history to advance in its first two postseason rounds.
Regular season finish: 1st in Western Conference (Supporters’ Shield winners)
Strengths: The talent boasted by Los Angeles FC is unparalleled in MLS in 2022. Steve Cherundolo made subtle changes to the squad he inherited from Bob Bradley at the start of the year to point the club in the right direction. Now, LAFC are so strong that Gareth Bale has largely been used only as an impact substitute.
Weaknesses: While LAFC were unstoppable over the summer, the Supporters’ Shield winners somewhat staggered over the line with just three wins in their final nine fixtures. Some teams get hot for the playoffs. LAFC may have gotten cold.
2) Philadelphia Union
Regular season finish: 1st in Eastern Conference
Strengths: In many ways, the Philadelphia Union are the most complete team in MLS: Jim Curtin’s side boasts the best attack and defence in the league. Andre Blake is the best goalkeeper in the playoffs while Daniel Gazdag is a difference-maker in the attacking third – he registered 22 goals and six assists in 2022.
Weaknesses: The Union could come undone against opponents that employ a low defensive block. They are among MLS’s most potent teams when they have space to exploit in quick transition, but sometimes lack the tools to break through when that space is denied.
3) CF Montreal
Regular season finish: 2nd in Eastern Conference
Strengths: CF Montreal have largely flown under the radar this season, but Wilfried Nancy has emerged as one of the best coaches in MLS. Ismael Kone and Victor Wanyama give the Canadians one of the strongest midfield platforms in the league while Nancy’s possession-heavy approach gives them control in most matches they play.
Weaknesses: Djordje Mihailovic and Romell Quioto are the attacking difference-makers for CF Montreal. It is therefore inconvenient that the former has struggled to find his best form since an injury in June while the latter is still sidelined after picking up a knock on international duty for Honduras last month. Without those two, CF Montreal could be predictable in the final third.
4) New York City FC
Regular season finish: 3rd in Eastern Conference
Strengths: Experience. As defending MLS Cup champions, New York City FC know what it takes to go all the way. Nick Cushing’s team finished the regular season with three straight wins and have managed to get many of their best players back on the pitch following a difficult spell of injuries. If Maxi Moralez, Héber, Santi Rodriguez, Talles Magno and Sean Johnson can find form, NYC FC’s individual talents could carry them a long way.
Weaknesses: The sight of NYC FC back at full-strength could be something of an illusion. Alex Callens still isn’t fully fit while Keaton Parks hasn’t completed a full 90 minutes since May, and Magno is a doubt after suffering a shoulder injury on Decision Day. What’s more, this team lost its best player (Taty Castellanos) and head coach (Ronny Deila) midway through the season. They have been missed. Muscle memory may not be enough.
5) Nashville SC
Regular season finish: 5th in Western Conference
Strengths: There is good reason to believe Nashville are built for the playoffs. While they underwhelmed over the regular season, they still finished with one of the best defensive records in the Western Conference. Nashville scored more set-piece goals than any other MLS team in 2022 while Hany Mukhtar won the Golden Boot. Nashville don’t concede many and usually take their chances – that could be a winning formula in the postseason.
Weaknesses: Last year, nobody managed to beat Nashville at home until they fell to Philly in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. This year, though, Geodis Park has been a far easier place to visit – only Houston had a poorer home record in the Western Conference over the regular season. Nashville are also prone to lapses when defending set-pieces, having conceded 11 times from freekicks and corners in 2022.
6) LA Galaxy
Regular season finish: 4th in Western Conference
Strengths: This summer saw both Los Angeles teams make big-name signings, but the Galaxy appear to have made the better deal. Riqui Puig’s arrival changed the landscape for Greg Vanney’s team with the former Barcelona midfielder settling in quickly. Puig has established a connection with Javier Hernandez, who has scored 11 goals in his last 12 games.
Weaknesses: The Galaxy conceded 51 goals in 34 regular-season games. Vanney’s team are susceptible to the counter-press, giving opponents something to target in quick transition. If the Galaxy have to grind out results, as the postseason often demands, they could struggle.
7) Austin FC
Regular season finish: 2nd in Western Conference
Strengths: Austin FC have gone from second-worst in the West to second-best in the space of just 12 months. Only LAFC scored more regular season goals in the Western Conference than Josh Wolff’s team, with Q2 Stadium now renowned for creating one of the loudest (and greenest) atmospheres in MLS. Then there’s Sebastian Driussi, who has registered 22 goals and five assists so far this year.
Weaknesses: Real Salt Lake could be a bad match-up for Austin FC in the first round. Wolff’s team can sometimes be too ponderous in possession and this could play into RSL’s hands with Pablo Mastroeni’s side proven in their ability to spoil matches (see last year’s unexpected postseason run). They will need to make a conscious effort to keep the ball moving as quickly as possible.
8) New York Red Bulls
Regular season finish: 4th in Eastern Conference
Strengths: The New York Red Bulls do as the New York Red Bulls do. Their press is the thing that could give them a chance in the playoffs with RBNY among the best at stopping opponents getting into their passing rhythm. That makes them tough to beat. Few MLS teams are as clear on their style of play as Gerhard Struber’s side which means everyone in the XI knows their roles and responsibilities.
Weaknesses: No team has as much postseason baggage. They have famously never managed to get their hands on MLS Cup despite being a founding member of the league, and Struber’s team may not have the individual talent to end their wait for glory. They also lack the firepower of some of their rivals.
9) FC Dallas
Regular season finish: 3rd in Western Conference
Strengths: FC Dallas have made great strides since finishing 11th in the Western Conference last season. Nico Estevez has given his team a clearer tactical identity, with Jesus Ferreira emerging as one of the best young players in the league (the USMNT striker scored 18 times in 33 regular season appearances).
Weaknesses: While the addition of Arriola and Sebastian Lletget gave FC Dallas some much-needed experience, Estevez’s team is still a young one. If the Texans can keep their core together they could challenge for MLS Cup next year, but this year’s playoffs may have come too early in their development as a group.
10) FC Cincinatti
Regular season finish: 5th in Eastern Conference
Strengths:FC Cincinnati score goals. Lots of them. After three straight ‘Wooden Spoon’ seasons, the appointment of Chris Albright as general manager and Pat Noonan as head coach marked the start of a turnaround, with the attacking trio of Luciano Acosta, Brenner and Brandon Vazquez arguably the most dangerous in MLS this season – between them, they registered 46 goals and 33 assists.
Weaknesses: If FC Cincinnati’s attack makes them a danger in every match they play, their defence makes them vulnerable too. The Decision Day performance against DC United demonstrated the good and the bad of Noonan’s team with the opposition never truly out of the match. Cincy will create chances, but they will also allow plenty of them.
11) Inter Miami
Regular season finish: 6th in Eastern Conference
Strengths: Gonzalo Higuain enters the playoffs as the hottest striker in MLS. The Argentinian will retire after the postseason, but his record of 14 goals in his last 16 games paints the picture of a player who still has plenty left to offer. Higuain’s partnership with Alejandro Pozuelo has given Inter Miami a different dimension in the second half of the season.
Weaknesses: Only two teams conceded more regular season goals in the Eastern Conference than Inter Miami. Higuain and Pozuelo make Phil Neville’s team dangerous in the attacking third, but neither player offer much on the defensive side of the ball. Opponents who break the first line of Inter Miami’s press will find a lot of space to exploit.
12) Minnesota United
Regular season finish: 6th in Eastern Conference
Strengths: MLS has become The Land Of The Number 10 in recent times and Emanuel Reynoso is one of the best in the league. If Reynoso is allowed to play his natural game, the Loons have a good chance of a run.
Weaknesses: Bakaye Dibassy’s season-ending injury has shaken Minnesota United’s defence with Adrian Heath’s team more fragile without the Malian at the back. Dibassy allowed Minnesota to play with a high line and keep things compact in the centre of the pitch. Now, they no longer have that ability and are giving opponents more time on the ball.
13) Orlando City
Regular season finish: 7th in Eastern Conference
Strengths: Orlando City have already demonstrated their usefulness in knockout soccer this year by winning the US Open Cup. They have a knack for producing the goods when it matters most, as shown by their comeback victory over Columbus Crew on Decision Day. Orlando will be underdogs in the playoffs, but that has suited them in the past.
Weaknesses: No team conceded as many goals on the counter attack in the regular season as Orlando City. Oscar Pareja is a proven MLS head coach, but he has so far failed to stamp an identity on this particular group of players. Orlando want to be a possession-heavy team, yet lack the talent and conviction to do so.
14) Real Salt Lake
Regular season finish: 7th in Western Conference
Strengths: Some teams relish the pressure of the postseason and Real Salt Lake were certainly one of those teams last season as they made an unexpected run to the Western Conference finals with shock wins over Seattle and Sporting KC. Pablo Mastroeni’s side enjoy playing the role of spoilers and they will enjoy the chance to be party-poopers once again at a sold-out Q2 Stadium in the first round.
Weaknesses: It goes against logic that a team that concedes as many chances as Real Salt Lake have even made the playoffs. Mastroeni doesn’t have much firepower to make use of in the final third either, so if any opponent can stop RSL from getting runners into the box, they could stop them as an attacking outfit entirely.
Less than 20 minutes into only his second Major League Soccer game, Gareth Bale scored a goal that could have served as a mission statement. Introduced off the bench with Los Angeles FC already 1-0 up against Sporting KC, the Welsh winger, who needs game time to find his best form before the 2022 World Cup, produced a performance that grew sharper with every minute and culminated in a quick transition strike to kill the game at 2-0.
Another typical Bale goal quickly followed in a 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake in which the 33-year-old strode past two opponents at the byline to fire home from a tight angle. Two goals in three appearances off the bench represented a good start to his MLS career, but Bale has struggled to build on this. In fact, he hasn’t scored another goal in the two months since his strike at Rio Tinto Stadium.
In fact, Bale hasn’t even completed a full MLS match, and has started just two of the 12 games he has featured in for LAFC since joining from Real Madrid in June. Steve Cherundolo’s team clinched the Supporters’ Shield with victory over the Portland Timbers on Sunday and will be among the favourites to win this year’s MLS Cup with the playoffs set to start later this month, but Bale has hardly had a hand in their success.
The measure of Bale’s time at LAFC was always likely to be different. As long as he arrives in Qatar for the World Cup in good shape, he will consider his decision to make the move to MLS vindicated. Bale once infamously waved a flag that read “Wales, golf, Madrid – in that order,” and his club might still be at the bottom of the list.
“We have a plan in LA with what we’re doing,” Bale recently said when asked to assess his own impact in MLS. “We’re not doing too much straight away. Every footballer wants to play as much as they can, but we’re being clever and building myself up for the last important part of the season. Hopefully that should put me in great shape for the World Cup. I think I’ll be a lot fitter.”
Wales manager Robert Page’s comments hinted at underlying dissatisfaction at his best player’s situation. “What he does from now until the first game [of the World Cup] against USA … we will be in contact with the club and help manage those minutes,” Page said after bemoaning not being able to use Bale across all 180 minutes against Belgium and Poland in the Nations League due to his lack of fitness.
Page knows Bale can be a difference-maker for Wales in Qatar. He is the country’s all-time top scorer (40 goals in 108 caps) and the player who secured World Cup qualification in the first place, scoring three goals in the playoff semi-finals and final. At his best, Bale can win a match on his own. For Wales, his fitness could be the difference between a last 16 appearance and a group stage exit.
LAFC may not have much incentive to increase Bale’s game time before he heads to Qatar. This may seem somewhat peculiar given the Welshman’s individual quality and record at the elite level of European soccer, but Cherundolo has a system that already works well without Bale and with the playoffs almost here there isn’t much scope for experimentation between now and November.
Many argued Bale’s move to MLS would afford him more freedom to gain fitness and match sharpness than would have been the case in the Premier League or another of Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues. However, MLS’s relative parity makes rotation difficult, even for a team like LAFC who appeared a good bet to make the playoffs from early on.
On top of this, MLS’s travel schedule makes the season a gruelling one. In Spain, Bale’s longest away day involved an hour or two on a chartered plane. In the Premier League, most away matches can be reached on a bus. In MLS, though, Bale is regularly travelling across multiple time zones, sometimes on commercial flights.
It may not be until the World Cup is out of the way that MLS sees the best of Bale. Only then will the winger be able to clear his mind and fully commit to life at LAFC with a full pre-season ahead of him to get ready for the 2023 campaign. Even then, Bale could struggle to build momentum as he is only contracted until next summer. A decision on his long-term future will have to be made.
There have been glimpses of brilliance from Bale in MLS, which will have offered encouragement to Page and Wales. At 33, he has lost some of the pace that made him so explosive earlier in his career, but the ability remains. Once Bale has finished making sure Wales can unlock that ability at the World Cup, he may get round to doing the same for LAFC in MLS.