It’s rare that one team proves so dominant in a single MLS campaign. But at the time of writing in mid-August, Los Angeles FC are on the brink of creating history with their performances in the Supporters’ Shield so far.
They top the Western Conference standings by 14 points, lead the way in the Supporters’ Shield by ten and, with ten games left to play, they could theoretically end the regular season with 85 points – the current record is Toronto’s 69 in 2017.
The most goals scored by a single team in the regular season was the 85 plundered by their LA rivals Galaxy back in 1998. If Bob Bradley’s men average two per game from now until the end of the term – they’re currently at 2.71 – they will smash that record too.
Their standout player, Carlos Vela, was a 'failure' at Arsenal and essentially let go by Real Sociedad. But he's finally found a home, and currently boasts 23 goals this MLS season and ten assists. The records? 31 for goals and 26 for assists, with a combined seasonal best of 38. As it stands, Vela is on course to crush at least two of those landmarks.
Indeed, there's an argument that he is simply too good for the MLS, but as the man himself said in an interview with ESPN: "They criticized me a lot for coming here. I accept the criticism, but [the critics] don't stop me wanting to be the best in the league, to want to do better each day, to put my name and Mexico's name everywhere and I'm doing that right now."
The beauty of how the MLS works as a format is that, in essence, regular season form counts for very little in the final shake-up. Of course, LAFC are favorites to win the Supporters’ Shield in the latest soccer betting odds from Betway as of 19th August, and they will be fancied to triumph in the MLS Play-Offs too. Remember, however, that points are not carried over, and that the play-offs operate in the traditional knockout way.
So, who can stop them from lifting the MLS Cup? Let’s take a look at the three main candidates:
It’s typical that the most decorated team in MLS history, and one with possibly the best chance of stopping the current leaders, are LAFC’s city rivals.
The Galaxy made a big statement in signing Cristian Pavon, an enormously talented Argentine, earlier in August. The winger comes with a huge reputation from Boca Juniors, and no less a judge than Zlatan Ibrahimovic has already told the 23-year-old he is 'too good' for the MLS.
The winger signed his first-ever professional contract at the age of 16, and while that pales in comparison to the seven-year-old that has signed with Anderlecht in Belgium, it just goes to show that even at his young age, Pavon has plenty of experience of big-game soccer.
With Pavon terrorizing defenses alongside the improving Manchester City loanee Uriel Antuna, and the rock-solid presence of Jonathan Dos Santos in midfield, the Galaxy have the basic tools to succeed – and that’s before we even bring Zlatan, the most natural goalscorer in the competition, into the equation.
Life was a struggle for the Georgia franchise early on under Frank de Boer, and they only won one of their opening six games of the season. But the Five Stripes have well and truly hit their straps now, winning eleven of eighteen MLS games played since the start of May.
Josef Martinez, the extraordinary goalscorer, is back doing what he does best, with Ezequiel Barco providing the ammunition. Pity Martinez, a huge off-season signing from Argentina, is also starting to show his best at exactly the right time of the campaign.
New York City FC
There’s an intriguing double-hander going on at NYC FC. On the one hand, they are extremely difficult to beat: they have lost just five MLS games this season – only Los Angeles FC have tasted defeat on fewer occasions.
And yet, on the other, this is a franchise blessed with attacking, match-winning talent. It’s not crazy to suggest that Maxi Moralez would walk into any other MLS starting eleven, while Heber, Alexandru Mitrita and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi have served up 20 goals between them already.
Their Yankees Stadium home, with its strange dimensions and uneven surface, offers them a unique advantage too, and while it's not exactly straw soccer, the New Yorkers do benefit when playing possession-based teams on home soil.
LAFC will have their work cut out ensuring these three teams don't spoil their attempts to win a first MLS Cup in what is set to be an exciting post-season based on the level of competition.