On Saturday what has been evitable for months could finally become a reality for the Los Angeles Football Club: With a road win over the lowly Colorado Rapids, it would become the fourth team in MLS history to reach the playoffs in its first season.
For midfielder Benny Feilhaber that’s not the end of the journey though; it’s just the first step.
“Clinching the playoffs is an important feat for our team. But it’s definitely something we’re not going to be satisfied with,” he said.
Feilhaber is speaking from experience. With Sporting Kansas City, his previous team, Feilhaber made the playoffs in each of the last five years, only to lose in the one-game knockout round on the road the last four times.
LAFC could avoid that possibility by finishing in the top two in the Western Conference standings, earning a first-round playoff bye and a spot in the two-leg conference semifinals. Finishing third or fourth would keep the team home for the knockout round.
LAFC (14-8-8) enters the weekend in third, two points back of second-place Kansas City and two points ahead of fourth-place Portland.
“We, of course, want to try to get a top-two seed. But at the very, very least get a home game, which makes it much more of a viable path to the get to the final,” Feilhaber said. “The next three games are vital to put ourselves in the right position.
“If we can get nine points out of those three games we put ourselves in a great position to finish top two. If we don’t, we’re going to probably be playing a knockout game. We know that and we’ve got to start playing our best football here toward the end of the season.”
LAFC, which traveled to Colorado (6-18-6) without midfielder Eduard Atuesta (concussion) and forward Latif Blessing (strained left hip flexor), is coming off a 3-1 loss to Chicago that snapped a six-game unbeaten streak and marked just the team’s second loss to an opponent with a losing record. It can also clinch a postseason berth with a draw, depending on the outcome of three other games involving five playoff contenders.
But a tie wouldn’t help LAFC with the larger goal of building momentum heading into the playoffs.
“We’ve had different stretches during the year,” coach Bob Bradley said. “At the end you want to have individuals at their best level. You want to have the focus of the group strong with everybody see[ing] what we’re trying to do. And then you go into every game and play like there’s no tomorrow.