FC Cincinnati Faces Some Tough California Love

The juggernaut that is LAFC awaits on Saturday.

Remember the 4-1 thumping FC Cincinnati received in its first-ever Major League Soccer foray by Seattle Sounders? Some version of that bushwhacking is likely coming down the pike Saturday night, when FCC travels to face the juggernaut Los Angeles Football Club.

Entering this weekend’s games, LAFC paces MLS in points (16), wins (five), goal differential (plus 14) and goals scored (19). Last weekend against Wayne Rooney and DC United, one of the Eastern Conference’s premier outfits, LAFC won 4-0 going away. A week before that, they pounded San Jose 5-0.

There might not be a stronger top-to-bottom squad in MLS. Up front, MLS March Player of the Month Carlos Vela—who doubles as one of the best players on the excellent Mexican national team—and Uruguayan sensation Diego Rossi have combined for 13 goals, with Vela also notching four assists. Defensively, LAFC is paced by Walker Zimmerman, a hulking center back who’s become a fixture for the U.S. national squad. And roaming the sideline is Bob Bradley, perhaps the most decorated American soccer coach ever. Bradley helmed the U.S. men’s national team from 2006 to 2011, was the first American to lead a first division European squad while coaching in Norway, and is the only U.S. national to manage an English Premier League club.

If it weren’t for FC Cincinnati’s entry into MLS this year, LAFC would still be the league’s greenest franchise. The Black and Gold’s inaugural season was last year, and they were an immediate success, finishing third in the Western Conference and scoring the second-most goals in MLS. LAFC’s rise differs from FCC’s in every major way: The club did not play in the United Soccer League or North American Soccer League prior to its initial MLS campaign, and its home grounds (22,000-seat Banc of California Stadium adjacent to the USC campus) was built in time for its first MLS game in March 2018.

LAFC also has a star-studded ownership group. Its majority owner is Hollywood mogul Peter Guber, who owns Mandalay Entertainment and was a producer for notable films like Rain Man and The Color Purple. Minority LAFC owners include the recently-unemployed Magic Johnson, Will Ferrell, Mia Hamm and Tony Robbins. FC Cincinnati doesn’t possess that type of top-down organizational star power, and it probably never will—and that’s OK. As I outlined last week, FCC’s ideal franchise model is Sporting Kansas City, last weekend’s opponent.

Back to the upcoming game, though. Obviously, FC Cincinnati can’t afford any lingering self-pity after its disappointing 1-1 draw against a heavily rotated Sporting KC side. Striker and designated player Fanendo Adi will miss his fourth straight full game on Saturday, so the Orange and Blue—who haven’t scored a goal from live play in two games—will have to manage again without their 6-foot-4 target man.

Then again, FC Cincinnati—exceeding expectations with eight points through six games—is seemingly comfortable in its underdog role, and Alan Koch may just have unbeatable LAFC right where he wants them. As for me, I’m happy to have “Out on bail, fresh out of jail, California dreamin’” stuck on repeat in my head.

Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. Off the pitch, he is the associate editor for Signs of the Times magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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