The Union’s upcoming home game against Los Angeles FC is brimming with storylines.
Union manager Jim Curtin faces his mentor, LAFC counterpart Bob Bradley. Los Angeles’ Jordan Harvey, formerly of the Union, returns here for the first time in three years; and Woodbury-born goalkeeper Tyler Miller might play near his old home for the first time ever. Marco Fabián might go up against fellow Mexican star Carlos Vela, if Vela overcomes a hamstring injury in time.
Above all of those, though, is this: Saturday’s contest (7:30 p.m., PHL17) pits a Union team deservedly high up the standings against an LAFC team that is atop MLS by miles. Indeed, it might be the best team of any in the league’s 24-year history.
"They're the best team in the league, hands-down," Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said after a practice Tuesday under skies that felt like mid-July, not mid-September. "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."
LAFC (19-4-6, 63 points) leads the Western Conference by a whopping 17 points over second-place Seattle, and the Supporters' Shield race for the league's best overall record by 10 points over New York City FC. New York (15-5-8, 53 points), overtook the Union (15-8-6, 51 points) this past Saturday, beating New England during the FIFA international window while most MLS teams were off.
In recent weeks, though, a little bit of the shine has come off Los Angeles’ gold crest. The team is stuck in a three-game winless rut, starting with a 3-3 tie against the crosstown Galaxy in which Vela suffered a hamstring injury. He hasn’t played since.
Bedoya won't be surprised if LAFC aims to make a statement.
"I think that's even more dangerous," Bedoya said. "I'm sure Bob let them have it over the course of the last two performances."
The Union's captain knows that from experience, having played for Bradley when the Princeton alum coached the U.S. national team. Bradley gave Bedoya the first 13 of his 66 caps in 2010 and 2011.
"He's always been a good coach, a good tactician, but he's also got great players," Bedoya said. "They've set the tone right from the beginning with the guys that they've signed."
That includes forward Diego Rossi, who's having another fine season with 15 goals and 6 assists; and Vela, who has Bedoya's vote as MLS MVP. Vela is the league's top scorer with 27 goals, and ranks third in assists with 15. His claim to being most valuable has only been enhanced by his absence.
They are far from the only threats, though. Less-heralded names like forward Adama Diomandé and Latif Blessing have also made big contributions. The back line is anchored by Miller, Harvey and U.S. regular Walker Zimmerman.
It will be a big test for the Union, whether Vela plays or not. And if they pass, it will be right up there with the recent win over Atlanta as one of their best ever results.