WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
EYES ON THE PRIZE
First off: Awesome. Second off: Holy hell that was amazing. Third off: I genuinely cannot believe all of those things happened, let alone that they happened in the order they occurred. But stay focused here. There will be plenty of time for us to write hagiography about MLS Cup 2022 and plenty of time for me to laugh at myself for thinking for even a moment that it might not live up to the hype. The whole event outdid itself several times over. However, I just want to step away from the micro view of…[checking]...literally the best MLS game ever (?) to make sure we keep our eyes on the MLS Cup champions. LAFC took an odd trajectory towards the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup this year. In their inaugural season in 2018, they immediately set the league on fire. In 2019, they built on an outstanding opening season to become the greatest regular season team of all time by nearly any metric. Certainly the most ruthless. They won the Supporters' Shield with a record-setting performance, but a run-in with the Sounders in the playoffs derailed their dreams of an MLS Cup title. That's when things got weird. In 2020…well, I mean do I really have to go further than that? 2020 happened and everything got weird. LAFC lost all of their bite along the way and they barely made the playoffs. Then they lost in the first round. The Sounders got them again. And at that point, things spiraled downward in the strangest way. 2021 LAFC played excellent soccer. If you watched 90% of each LAFC game, you would have seen flashes of the 2019 team that ripped MLS to shreds. The problem was if you watched 100% of each game, you knew that a lot could change in just a short amount of time. LAFC were comically cursed defensively. Constant in their total inability to keep from allowing at least one horrific goal where they attempted to clear the ball only for it to bounce off like five people and into the net. I even started a running bit entitled "The Catastrophic LAFC Defensive Moment of the Week" thinking I would run out of content almost immediately. Folks, I never ran out of content. LAFC led the league in expected goal differential and missed the playoffs. A truly spectacular commitment to blasting off their own foot with a shotgun each week. But that's what makes the regrouping and redoubled efforts of this club so impressive. For a club that got everything right at the start, they recognized the effort it would take to ensure that everything would stop going wrong. That didn't mean simply throwing money at the issue. It helps to have money, of course, but let's think about what really made this LAFC team special. They identified areas of need and filled them with outstanding moves. Not by being able to offer The LA-ness of it all to Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini, but by making smart moves within MLS that provided a map back to the league's elite for a team inexplicably lost in the wilderness. Back in the very first Power Rankings of the 2022 season, I wrote this…Did…did LAFC quietly have the best offseason in the league? I'm not saying either way, just throwing a genuine question out here. In one offseason, they added Franco Escobar, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Ilie Sanchez, Kellyn Acosta, Ryan Hollingshead and Maxime Crepeau. At least four of those guys are genuinely good and two of them can be effective. For a team that had a feature segment every week last year in this column entitled "The Catastrophic LAFC Defensive Moment of the Week" and never ran out of content, these seem like moves that should really, really keep that from happening.Look at that list of names. Those weren't earth-shattering moves that lit social media on fire. Those were trades and free agents. These were players that were available to other teams. LAFC just outmaneuvered everyone else. Then Sanchez and Acosta reshaped their midfield, Hollingshead put in yet another outstanding season, Escobar added quality depth and Crepeau drastically improved one of the worst goalkeeping units in the league. Then, once the foundation got installed, they were able to build on it in a way that very, very few teams in MLS can. They were rewarded for it. Some ambitious teams lack pragmatism and far too many pragmatic teams think they can get by without ambition. LAFC had both. And when it came down to it, they earned the kind of ending that will help propel the league and this sport forward. Yesterday, I couldn't help but think of their motto for building their fan base in an LA ecosystem already full of Galaxy fans: Street By Street, Block By Block, One By One. It clearly worked. The 3252 and Banc of California Stadium were as rowdy as anything we've seen in this league. This edition of LAFC just so happened to mirror that path. Start small, create the foundation, then build on it as big and bright as you possibly can. It paid off. Even if no one outside of LAFC's fanbase went into yesterday thinking of LAFC as the protagonists or the underdogs, you couldn't help but respect how they got there.
THE READING RAINBOW
Good luck out there. Celebrate where you can.