Reporting by: Robby Aronson
Banc of California Stadium will host its first-ever Major League Soccer playoff game on Thursday as Los Angeles Football Club takes on Real Salt Lake in the first round of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup.
LAFC is a new team entering the MLS this year, but this isn't the first time a new MLS team has made the playoffs in its inaugural season. Four other teams also made the playoffs in their opening season, one of which ended up winning the championship.
Interestingly enough, that team – the Chicago Fire – was also coached by the current manager of LAFC, Bob Bradley.
Bradley's managerial resumé includes several MLS teams, Swansea City, and the US Men's National Team. His vast managerial experience made him a great fit to lead LAFC in its opening campaign.
The opposing team, Real Salt Lake, is managed by Mike Petke, who has playoff experience as a player and manager in the MLS. Petke is in his second season with Salt Lake.
On paper, LAFC is favored to win this game as they finished the regular season third in the Western Conference with 57 points while Real Salt Lake finished sixth with 49.
In the regular season, LAFC won both head-to-head matchups with Real Salt Lake. When the two teams met in March, LAFC won 5-1 on the road. Similarly, LAFC won 2-0 at Banc of California Stadium in August.
For LAFC, Carlos Vela is the player to watch in this game, having represented Mexico in the World Cup this past summer. Vela scored a team high of 14 goals thus far, and tallied a further 13 assists. The team will also rely on goalkeeper Tyler Miller, who has 10 shutouts this season.
Damir Kreilach is going to be the X-factor for Real Salt Lake if they win this game. He scored 12 goals and assisted 8 during the regular season.
Jefferson Savarino will also play an important role as the creative outlet for the team, already compiling 11 assists this season.
For team stats, LAFC leads in goals this season as they have scored 68 times compared to Real Salt Lake's 55. LAFC is also better defensively having only given up 52 goals this season while Real Salt Lake have conceded 58 times.
Both teams are coming off of tough losses to end the season. Real Salt Lake lost their last game 3-0 against Portland. Similarly, LAFC lost their last game 2-1 against Kansas City.
This had important implications for the playoffs because if LAFC had won, they would have had a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The top best two teams in each Conference automatically get into the second round, and the winner between Kansas City and LAFC determined who would get the pass.
LAFC gets to host this winner takes all game due to their higher ranking during the regular season.
If LAFC wins, they will play the Seattle Sounders on November 4th and November 11th. If Real Salt Lake wins, they will battle Sporting Kansas City on November 4th and November 8th.
The game will take place Thursday at Banc of California Stadium at 7:30 pm.