In the two years since they kicked off their soccer party in downtown Los Angeles, LAFC's story has been dreamlike in every facet of the word.
Originally slated to be the red-headed stepchild to the five-time MLS Cup Champion LA Galaxy, LAFC has had a phoenix-like rise from the ashes to become the top team in America's best soccer city.
LAFC has produced scenes that are the envy of clubs across the globe: they consistently sell out their gleaming new home adjacent to the LA Memorial Coliseum, they have thousands of fans standing, jumping, and singing for 90 minutes, and they have built and developed a soccer culture that is second to none.
"From day one we set out to be a good team, and to have an idea football-wise what we wanted to be about and to build on that every day," said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley, who was named the 2019 MLS Coach of the Year last week.
That's exactly what they did, build and build. In their inaugural season, LAFC had one of the best years ever recorded for an expansion team. They hovered near the top of the table all season long, and advanced to the MLS Playoffs where they lost at home in the first round to Real Salt Lake.
In their sophomore season, LAFC broke the MLS record for most points, their striker Carlos Vela, set the single-season goal scoring record and is the presumptive MLS MVP. They cruised to their first-ever Supporters' Shield in franchise history, and vanquished their rivals the LA Galaxy in the second round of the playoffs.
Then the dream turned into a nightmare.
Raúl Ruidiaz scored a brace, and the Seattle Sounders defeated LAFC, 3-1, to advance to the MLS Cup Final on Tuesday night at the Banc of California Stadium.
"It's really frustrating to have a home game in the semifinal with a chance to host the final and not get it done," said Bradley after the loss.
Eduard Atuesta struck first for LAFC in the 17th minute, but the Sounders responded with three unanswered goals from Ruidiaz and captain Nicolas Lodeiro to put a tragic end to LAFC's historic season.
"It's a season where there's a lot of good things," added Bradley. "But it ends in a disappointing way."
Seattle followed the same script they have for most of their postseason run. They fell behind early, and then rallied for a come-from-behind victory against a strong team.
"They can score first but we know this [game] is 90 minutes," said Sounders captain Nicolas Lodeiro, who also scored in the match. "After the goal, we played the same. In the first half,we played better than LAFC. We fought to win."
After Atuesta's free-kick bender put LAFC up 1-0, the Sounders needed less than five minutes to level the score. LAFC's vaunted defense, that has anchored the team all season long, failed them often in the conference final.
All it took was a nifty juke move from Ruidiaz to creep inside the box and get off a straight shot to the upper right corner of the net for the equalizer.
Just a few minutes later, it was Lodeiro, with the go-ahead goal from about 10-feet outside the box. Lodeiro found himself wide open with plenty of room to slot a left-footed shot to the right post for what would prove to be the game-winning goal.
"I’m very happy because we deserved this," Lodeiro said after the match. "I have my family here. The team played like warriors. I like my team and I am very proud."
In the second half, Seattle put LAFC on their heels, and scored an important insurance goal when Ruidiaz took a pass from Lodeiro, moved to his right, and easily sent a shot past LAFC keeper Tyler Miller into the near post for the goal.
Miller was drafted by the Sounders in the second round of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, but he was subpar against his former team in net on Tuesday. LAFC's loss to Seattle was their first in franchise history, with their first ever win coming against the Sounders in March of 2018.
"The ability to make a play, or make a save, some of those things let us down tonight,"said Bradley. "We just weren't good enough."
LAFC was definetely not good enough on Tuesday night, but Bradley appeard to be out-coached by his counterpart Brian Schmetzer throughout the match.
"I think we were the underdog," said Schmetzer about the motivation he gave his team before the game. "They [LAFC] statistically had the best record in MLS history, that is a tremendous team...but, certainly they were the favorites and they were deservedly the favorites because in this new playoff format, they earned the right to host these home games and winning away from home is a challenge, which is credit to my team."
Seattle's strategy to nullify Vela was sensational. The Mexican-native scored a record-breaking 34 goals in the regular season and two in their 5-3 victory over the Galaxy last Thursday. The Sounders sent one, two, and sometimes three defenders at Vela every time he touched the ball on the attack. They sent numbers back, clogged the middle, and forced the ball outside. Vela had just one shot during the game, and Bradley had no answers on how to get his striker the ball.
"We try to get him the ball quickly so he can get some balls on the move," said Bradley. "But tonight we didn't create as many of those moments because they had a lof numbers back and we weren't able to move the ball fast enough."
had numbers back, they clogged the middle, they defended in a compact and strong way and then, if you don’t move the ball quick enough, when you get up there it’s not easy to get shots. I think we had four shots on goal. In those ways... I don’t think we’re good enough on the night, it’s moving the ball the quicker so we get a little bit of an advantage, in some cases, it’s winning the ball a little bit higher so we can create an advantage that way.”had numbers back, they clogged the middle, they defended in a compact and strong way and then, if you don’t move the ball quick enough, when you get up there it’s not easy to get shots. I think we had four shots on goal. In those ways... I don’t think we’re good enough on the night, it’s moving the ball the quicker so we get a little bit of an advantage, in some cases, it’s winning the ball a little bit higher so we can create an advantage that way.”Bradley hugged his superstar and whispered in his ear as the referee's final whistle sounded. Vela, visibly frustrated and disappointed did not remember what his coach said, but wants fans to not forget the historic season LAFC had.
"Nobody expected this end for our season but we know in the playoffs it’s one game," said Vela. "If they [other teams] make better plays than you then you’re out. In the end, we have to be proud of what we’ve done all year and learn. We have to learn. We have a lot of things to improve. We have to change some things and get stronger to come back next year and be better. It’s the only way to be a good club."
LAFC recieved their first blast of cold wind on Tuesday night, and they will wake up tomorrow to even stronger gusts as the Santa Ana's whip through the Southland.
The team coined "the best in MLS history," will not be headed to the MLS Cup Final on Nov. 10, Seattle will. There are a handful of key decision the front office will have to make in the coming days regarding the future of the organization. Their franchise is still in it's infancy, but coming so close to hoisting an MLS Cup will certainly haunt them throughout the offseason.