News Matches
Los Angeles vs LA Galaxy

Superstar or supersub? Bale and LAFC gear up for MLS Cup pursuit after slow start to life in U.S.

15:25 GMT+3 20/10/2022
Gareth Bale LAFC 2022
The former Real Madrid attacker has had a slow start to life in the U.S., but the playoffs are where stars truly shine.

Since his arrival in MLS this summer, Gareth Bale has been relatively quiet. And, despite what many from outside of the league would think, that's totally okay.

It often takes foreign players some time to figure out the intricacies of MLS, Bale included. And, to be perfectly honest, LAFC's Supporters' Shield run was all but sealed before the Wales star arrived in MLS.

LAFC were a regular-season juggernaut even before signing Bale. They would have been fine without him and they didn't need him to achieve regular-season glory.

But, as the playoffs begin, now's the time for Gareth to be LAFC's superhero. He was brought in to win regular-season titles or move jerseys. He was brought in to lead LAFC to the MLS Cup, which has always seemed so close but so far.

On Thursday night, that mission begins against the LA Galaxy with about as eye-catching a match as you can have in MLS: El Trafico. It's a rivalry that, in its short history, has already transcended.

Who can forget Zlatan Ibrahimovic's superhuman arrival that saw him score arguably the best goal in MLS history? What about Carlos Vela's big moments against his crosstown rivals and the rivalry-leading 10 goals he's fired? And then there's that 2019 MLS playoff classic that cemented this rivalry's place among the best in MLS.

This game, in its short history, has been a game for stars. And you could argue that Bale will be the biggest one in the building on Thursday, despite the presence of Vela, Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, Giorgio Chiellini, Douglas Costa, Riqui Puig and perhaps even Will Ferrell.

Thus far, Bale hasn't had to be a star for LAFC. He's featured just 12 times, scored just twice and started just twice, accounting for a total of 347 on-field minutes. That's less than four total games since arriving from Real Madrid.

But all of that has to be put into some perspective. Those 347 minutes are more than Bale played all of last season for Real Madrid. And, given Bale's injury issues, LAFC always knew that the plan was to slowly bring him along so he could, hopefully, peak during the playoffs and right on through to Wales' World Cup run.

“We have a plan in LA with what we’re doing,” Bale said in September. “We’re not doing too much straight away. Every footballer wants to play as much as they can, but we’re being clever and building myself up for the last important part of the season. Hopefully, that should put me in great shape for the World Cup."

He continued: “We’re on a good path to where I want to be. I want to play 90 minutes as much as I can, but I understand I need to build up to that because I haven’t done it an awful lot in the last few years."

He has, though, shown off the brilliance that, at one point, made him one of the top five players in the world. His Goal of the Season candidate against Real Salt Lake was nothing short of spectacular, as he went on an individual run that Tottenham and Real Madrid fans will be all too familiar with. And then there was his goal against Sporting KC, just a smart, smooth finish that left Bale grinning from ear to ear in a way that we haven't seen often enough over the last few years.

So that brings us to the playoffs, which is an entirely different animal. Sure, Bale isn't 90-minutes fit for the regular season, but could we see him go the distance starting this Thursday?

That's still to be determined.

In fact, some reports out of Los Angeles indicate that the 33-year-old is questionable due to a left leg injury.

There's still a good chance that Bale - who hasn't played since October 2 - remains a super-sub, an ace in the hole off the bench. LAFC don't need to rush him onto the field right now given the wealth of options they have in the attack. They have Vela, fellow DP Denis Bouanga and MLS MVP candidate Chicho Arango to lead the line, leaving Bale, at the moment, without a real place to play.

And imagine having that in your back pocket for a playoff run. Imagine bringing Gareth Bale off the bench 65 minutes in to get you the goal you need. It seems an ideal way of handling things for all involved, especially with the World Cup so close.

But, if that's how this shakes out, if Bale is in fact LAFC's super-sub, there's no doubt they'll need him. Anyone who has followed the MLS playoffs in recent years knows that, for every team, there comes a moment where you need a goal, a moment, a spark. Every champion thrives in that moment, while other teams falter and suffer elimination as a result.

At some point in these playoffs, Bale may just need to answer that call if LAFC are to win this whole thing. And, if history is an indication, he certainly can.

Just how much LAFC can get out of Bale remains to be seen, but it's safe to say they'll need something out of their superstar if they want to end this season with an MLS Cup in hand.