Building a team: LAFC kicks off with its first practice
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Diego Rossi drew the attention of scouts worldwide last year while playing a prominent role in Penarol’s championship season in his native Uruguay.
So why would a touted teenage striker choose to continue his rising career at Los Angeles Football Club, which has never played a game and hasn’t even revealed its jersey?
“To write the history,” Rossi said Monday after the first training session in franchise history.
Nearly 39 months after a deep-pocketed ownership group secured Major League Soccer’s 23rd franchise, LAFC finally took the field on a sunny January morning at UCLA for its inaugural workout under coach Bob Bradley.
The club doesn’t yet have a fully stocked roster or a finished stadium, although both of those projects will be completed shortly. Building a true team will take a bit longer, but Bradley is confident he has a group that can make an immediate impact in the growing North American league.
“I’ve seen a lot of first days, but I thought overall, there were some good signs,” said Bradley, the former boss of Swansea City and the U.S. national team. “Of course, I see all the things that still need work, so there was a little bit of yelling and screaming and demonstrating, but that’s all part of the work every day.”
Bradley is the only coach in MLS history to win a title with an expansion club, leading the Chicago Fire to a championship in 1998. He hasn’t coached in his domestic league since leaving Chivas USA in 2006, but LAFC seems to have the ingredients to build another compelling team immediately .
LAFC might not have jerseys yet, but Rossi’s shorts featured a No. 9, underlining his expected role as the striker. The No. 10 shorts were worn by Carlos Vela, the versatile Mexican playmaker who left La Liga’s Real Sociedad to become LAFC’s first designated player.
Rossi and Vela could be a compelling tandem, but they’re only part of a roster already studded with international talent including Belgian defender Laurent Ciman, Egyptian midfielder Omar Gaber, Costa Rican forward Marco Urena, Ghanaian forward Latif Blessing and Americans Benny Feilhaber and Walker Zimmerman.
“The (other) players’ names come pretty easy to me,” said Feilhaber, a UCLA product who had mixed emotions about leaving Sporting Kansas City after five seasons. “We’re still getting to know each other, but it’s fun to get out on the field with players that are as talented as this. We’re just getting our feet wet, but it’s going to be exciting.”
Gaber played for Bradley on the Egyptian national team, and he was excited when LAFC acquired him from FC Basel in Switzerland’s top league.
“Once they started to speak with me, I felt they are so professional,” Gaber said. “I felt for sure I had to come. Yes, maybe it’s a risk to be with a new club, but we have very good players, coaches and staff. The people are so professional. We have big ambitions, and we want success. I am sure we will achieve good things together.”
LAFC isn’t done building, either.
Rossi filled the club’s second DP spot, but a third remains open. The club hasn’t decided whether to fill it now or after the World Cup, but there’s little doubt LAFC has the financial might to contend for top MLS-level talent.
The club’s resources also will be on display in late April when Banc of California Stadium opens in downtown Los Angeles. Located next-door to the historic Coliseum, LAFC’s privately funded, soccer-specific home is expected to be a festive gathering place for LA’s burgeoning downtown population of relocated professionals and locals alike.
After a handful of preseason friendlies, LAFC will open its first season with six road games, starting in Seattle on March 4 and including its first date with the LA Galaxy on March 31.
“I’m excited about the potential of this club,” Vela said. “I think it’s going to be incredible.”