Steven Beitashour believes he found the one thing LAFC teammate Carlos Vela cannot do better than everyone else in MLS. And that’s grow a beard.
Beitashour qualifies as something of an expert on facial hair, having harvested an impressive beard since setting aside his razor in the preseason. What Vela has going is more like 3 o’clock shadow.
“I don’t know if you’d consider that a beard,” Beitashour said. “It’s more like stubble.”
Technically stubble, no matter how thin, qualifies as a beard, which helps make LAFC not just the winningest team in MLS this season, but the hairiest one as well. Midfielder Lee Nguyen and defender Jordan Harvey have been working on their beards all year. Forwards Diego Rossi and Josh Perez both have one. Count the bristles on the faces of defender Walker Zimmerman, forward Adama Diomande and Vela, and eight of the players LAFC used in last weekend’s win over the New York Red Bulls were wearing whiskers, making LAFC the shaggiest group since ZZ Top.
“It’s kind of grown on all of us,” Nguyen said, no pun intended. “It’s something we’ve kind of just embraced as our own inner-circle thing.”
Clearly it’s proven a good look because a road win Saturday over Real Salt Lake, combined with a draw or loss by FC Dallas, would clinch a playoff berth for LAFC (17-3-4) with nine games left in the season. Securing a postseason pass against Real (12-9-4) would be fitting since that team knocked LAFC out of the playoffs in the first round last fall.
And while Beitashour insists last year’s loss didn’t inspire this year’s beard, he says he thinks about the game whenever he faces a mirror. So while it’s not exactly a playoff beard, it’s not exactly not one either.
“It’s definitely a good reminder every time you look at it, every time you want to shave it,” he said. “There’s been plenty of times that I wanted to shave it, but no. It’s got to stick around.”
Beitashour, who can go from baby-faced to wolfman in two or three days — “my 5 o’clock shadow is probably more than most guys’ beard,” he said — grew playoff beards during previous MLS stops in San Jose, Vancouver and Toronto. But only once did it pay off with a title.
“It doesn’t have a really good winning percentage,” he said. So this season he decided to grow his beard from the start of training camp, keeping it trimmed and neat.
The idea actually started with Harvey — at 35, the oldest player on the team — who approached Beitashour, then Nguyen with the idea of becoming what he called “the beard gang.” It’s not a common look in MLS, where lumberjack-like former Portland Timbers defender Nat Borchers was probably the closest thing the league had to Justin Turner.
“We were like ‘yeah, let’s grown our beards out’ just kind of on a whim,” said Harvey, who now shaves his head but not his face. “We’re trying to get more [people] on board. If someone starts growing it out, you know that got to them.”
But, the hirsute Harvey insisted, standards must be followed and there’s definitely a line between scruff and beard, one that keeps Vela and other teammates in a different category.
“Ours is a beard that we manage,” said Nguyen, who considered Vela’s stubble little more than poor shaving.
For Nguyen, the look got him a modeling gig at an adidas/MLS fashion show last spring. For Beitashour, meanwhile, the beard has gotten him little more than cold stares from his wife.
“She’s not a fan,” he winced. “Definitely not.”
Marital misery notwithstanding, he’s pledged not to shave until LAFC wins a league title.
“If we win MLS Cup, for sure we’re shaving,” Beitashour said.
The first big step toward that could come Saturday in Real Salt Lake, after which the rest of MLS would do well to fear the beards. Well, to a point anyway. Canadian-born midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye, who comes from a place where playoff beards are de rigueur, says to count him out.
“I don’t think I can grow a beard even if I wanted to,” he said.