Playing expansion teams are never really easy. Even the so-called ‘bad’ ones. First off, you have nothing to scout, especially when you have to play them in the early parts of the season. There is no game film to go over, no tendencies you can lean on, not even really a solidified game plan you can train and plan against. That task is even harder when you have to travel coast-to-coast, to play said expansion side for their debut home opener. That's the task ahead for LA Galaxy as they travel to face Charlotte FC, this Saturday, for their week two match.
It’s been reported that Charlotte FC expect around 75,000 fans at Bank of America Stadium. Anywhere close to 70k puts them in rarified air in terms of MLS attendance, especially for an expansion side, something not seen since Atlanta United — who hold 10 of the top spots for record attendance — were an expansion side themselves. Even with the hype, the possibility of so many people standing against them, and no real familiarity with the opponent, the G’s are ready. In fact, they seem excited by the prospect of playing in front of so many.
Head coach Greg Vanney and week one match winner Chicharito spoke to reporters ahead of Saturday's match on Wednesday, and touched on the challenges that come with facing a new team in the league.
“Like all the teams in this league, regardless if they are new or not, we’re going to respect them so much. We’re going to expect that they are going to fight for their lives” said Chicharito. “It’s going to be so tough to go over there, on a turf field, on the road. The city is very excited and happy that this moment came, and they can go and support their team. I think it's going to be tough and we expect nothing less.”
Chicharito is no stranger to playing on the big stage. Having spent time at English clubs like Manchester United and West Ham, as well as his tenure with the Mexican National Team, he knows all too well what it's like to not only play with that many fans in attendance, but how to silence those fans as a member of the away team.
“In every situation, if I’m at home with my crowd or I’m away against the crowd, I just try to receive everything as an energy and it’s on me how I want to receive it. It can be gasoline for my motivation or pressure for my doubts. For me, it’s amazing because everything else is extra. The most important is that I will be on a field, against a tough opponent, doing what I love most which is playing soccer,” he said.
For Vanney, the key is tempering the emotions that will surely surround this match.
“I think it’s fantastic for the game, for a new franchise to come into our league and have 75 thousand people show up to the first one [match]” said Vanney. “Clearly there's going to be a lot of emotion involved both for their fans and their team. For us it’s about managing that emotion and the excitement they’re going to have at the beginning. At the end of the day it becomes a soccer game at some point.”
Whether or not 75,000 people actually show up will be another story entirely, but if they can even get close to that, it will be a match filled with plenty of emotion and tons of atmosphere. The perk of sharing a stadium with an NFL franchise, as Atlanta United and the Seattle Sounders can attest to, is having over 70k in attendance even be a possibility. As the Galaxy have mentioned, it’s great for the sport in this country, as well as the league. For them though, this is a business trip, and as easy as it can be to get caught up in the spectacle of what Saturday will be, the most important part of the trip will be securing those three points.
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