To get everyone ready for Atlanta United’s match against LAFC, we spoke with Angels on Parade’s Alicia Rodriguez to get her take on El Traffico, their inaugural roster, and expectations.
DSS: From a neutral’s perspective, LAFC/Galaxy was arguably the greatest match in MLS history. However, it probably felt like a punch to the gut for LAFC fans. What’s your reaction to what the world witnessed last week?
AOP: Yeah, it was brutal to watch unfold and to think back on even several days later. I can’t lie, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 40-yard volley IS spectacular, but even though I can’t totally fault LAFC for giving up that particular goal since no one else in MLS would even try that shot, I can’t fully enjoy the majesty of the goal either.
I think even though LAFC capitulated in a major way, they still played well enough to win for a full hour, and if it happens once, then oh well. It’s MLS. Every team gets their pants pulled down at some point or another. I mean, having it happen against your local rival, in their stadium, after being ahead 3-0 in the 60th minute, is really bad. LAFC is going to have to deal with a lot of ribbing from Galaxy fans, at least until the next meeting. But I’d like to think Atlanta sports fans also understand the pain of being way ahead in an important game before losing altogether, right?
DSS: It seemed as if LAFC used every second afforded to them to fill out their roster. What did you think of their offseason?
AOP: Well, the primary transfer window is still open, so who says they’ve stopped working at building their roster? Seriously though, I was more than a bit puzzled at how the actual roster-building went down. I expected a ton of signings in December and January, and while there were obviously some, LAFC came to the season opener with 22 players, which I thought was below MLS regulations. It got worse, seemingly, for their first game, with a late scratch to Walker Zimmerman and so a gameday squad of 17 players. At least one of the players on the bench was too hurt to have played, so they had no more than 16 players.
The weird thing is that while one would expect such a small squad to be brutally punished -- they are an expansion team, after all -- LAFC won the first two games and (sigh) should have won their third. The first game gave them belief, and they blew away RSL in the second game, and then the Galaxy game has given them a bit of a wake-up call, to be sure.
I think with the loss, Bob Bradley will probably start rotating new players in after playing the exact same starting XI three games in a row. Unless he has an injury setback, Zimmerman should make his LAFC debut in Atlanta, and I think there’s a decent chance Eduard Atuesta, a young Colombian defensive midfielder, may get his first start after coming off the bench against the Galaxy. All in all, if LAFC continue to get results, I don’t think any of us can really question their inaugural roster building project.
DSS: What are fan expectations for LAFC’s inaugural season and do you believe those goals are attainable?
AOP: I think people are trying to be chill about it, but I do think the goal overall is to get to the playoffs this season. There’s been a lot of talk about Bob Bradley leading the Chicago Fire to a double in their first year, and although that would be totally awesome, no sensible fan is putting the bar quite that high. If they make the playoffs, then they’ve got a shot of really doing something, but considering only Atlanta and Seattle have made the playoffs in their first season out of all the expansion teams in the past decade, reaching the postseason is a reasonable goal.
As for whether the goal is attainable, we’ll see. I think there’s a lot of good parts to this LAFC roster. Bradley is a good coach and I think he provides a boost only a few other coaches around the league can. Based on a very small three-game sample size, I’d say they can definitely do it. But there are 31 games to go, several players are going to the World Cup and will miss some games, and it’s hard to stay above the red line for a full season. Still, if I had to bet on it, I’d say they can make the playoffs this year.