With home-field advantage throughout the Western Conference secured, Los Angeles FC looks to take a step closer to the last remaining prize of the MLS regular season – the Supporters’ Shield – as they face the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night.
Even during their current three-match losing streak, LAFC (19-6-4) had banked enough points during their fantastic play earlier in the season that last Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Orlando City coupled with Minnesota United’s loss to Houston on Wednesday night was enough to secure first place in the West with five matches to play.
Bob Bradley’s team needs four points the rest of the way to claim the Supporters’ Shield as it looks to follow the path blazed by Atlanta United last season in winning the MLS Cup in its second year of existence. Claiming the top spot in the conference also gave LAFC entry into next season’s CONCACAF Champions League.
“We did a good job of pushing the game in the second half,” Bradley told the club’s official website. “When we got to 2-2, I thought had we been able to stay a little bit sharper, the third goal was there for us.”
With a host of players on international duty, Bradley opted to keep the team on the East Coast and let those who represented their country filter in throughout the week. MLS leading scorer Carlos Vela, who has already set the league record for combined goals and assists despite missing the last three matches with a hamstring injury, appears ready to return and has resumed training with the team this week.
“We still have to size up how everybody is doing,” Bradley said when asked if those away on international duty would feature on Saturday. “When they get back, we look at their training loads, we look at what they did in the games, and factor it in with everything that is going on here. So, still some decisions to make.”
Philadelphia (15-6-8) is still trying to claim first in the East, having ceded the spot to New York City FC. The Union are three points back of the Bronx Blues with five matches remaining but are riding a four-match home winning streak after rallying past reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United 3-1 on Aug. 31.
Kacper Przybylko scored the go-ahead goal in the 86th minute and set up Sergio Santos’ insurance goal two minutes later as Philadelphia won for the fifth time in seven matches overall (5-0-2). Still, the Union are well aware the challenge LAFC present with or without Vela.
“They’re the best team in the league, hands-down,” midfielder Alejandro Bedoya told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “They’re a well-oiled engine. … We have a big chance to keep proving not just to others but to ourselves that we’re capable of being one of the best teams as well.”
There are also plenty of ties between the clubs – Bradley gave Bedoya his first U.S. cap, and Union coach Jim Curtin played under Bradley with the Chicago Fire. If Vela plays, he would renew acquaintances with compatriot Marco Fabian, an integral part of Philadelphia’s offense, and LAFC keeper Tyler Miller hails from nearby Woodbury, New Jersey.
LAFC ran out easy 4-1 winners in the first meeting between the clubs last year as Adama Diomande recorded a hat trick in 55 minutes while Latif Blessing scored the fourth and set up two of Diomande’s markers.
(Diego Rossi photo courtesy Douglas DeFelice/USA TODAY Sports)