Another chapter of the California El Clasico has come and gone. The Los Angeles Galaxy extend their poor run of form, while the San Jose Earthquakes continue to truck along. In the midst of all this, you have Los Angeles Football Club, eagerly waiting to enter the fray and stake out its claim as the best team in the state.
The signing of Carlos Vela should be read as a statement of intent: LAFC plan to hit the ground running and they have designs on uniting their celebrity ownership group with the Mexican residents of the state of California.
"We got Will Ferrell. We got Will Ferrell."
— LAFC (@LAFC) August 24, 2017
MLS has routinely featured renowned Mexican players since the inception of the league. Many of those players tended to be past their primes. Their lack of contributions on the field were offset by the name recognition and brand awareness they offered the league. For every Omar Bravo, there’s a Rafa Marquez, with most falling somewhere in the middle. The mainstays of the Mexican National soccer team have mostly stayed away, commanding better wages at home in a league that ranks higher than MLS or abroad in Europe where greater salaries and better competition continue to attract top talent.
Currently, MLS has three such players, all in the California area, with the dos Santos brothers, Giovani and Jonathan playing with the LA Galaxy. Perhaps this is the start of a mass exodus from Europe, with lower tier stars seeing an opportunity to stand out in a growing league.
Interestingly enough, the one person who shares Donald Trump desire to rid America of Mexican workers is Juan Carlos Osorio, coach of the Mexican national team, and vocal critic of MLS. His desire for players to remain in Europe is understandable, especially with the World Cup just 10 months away. Nevertheless, MLS, and to a greater extent the US, present a great opportunity for players in Liga MX to raise their profile in the hopes of securing a move to Europe.
Osorio recently backtracked on his comments, highlighting the importance of players to continue to work hard if they’d like to remain in contention for the national team.
“I’ve stated that MLS is a very athletic and demanding league and I hope our players take it as such and perform at their maximum to be considered [for the national team].”
This sentiment, however, isn’t shared by the players. Javier Hernandez–more commonly known as Chicharito– defended the decisions of his compatriots in the league during an eventful news conference prior to his debut for West Ham United in the English Premier League.
“They’re playing in a city that is practically Mexican and a league that has grown a lot,” Hernandez said. “There should be a lot of respect and admiration given to how they run their league. We can learn a lot from them to grow football in Mexico.”
At first glance, Chicharito formulates a thoughtful answer that resonates with players and fans; upon further examination, it reads as a template for how a team in California can best reach Mexican fans in the state and abroad in Mexico.
LAFC has made it a priority to center their promotional campaigns around Vela. Which of course, seems like a no brainer, but in deciding to reach out to local Mexican residents they’re allowing the community to shape the discourse of the team.
Take a look at one of the first conferences held by the team:
— LAFC (@LAFC) August 14, 2017
It’s an amazing thing to witness LAFC manager Bob Bradley, an American–purposefully without condescension–speak to the crowd in a slow and elaborate way that is encouraging a welcoming and open environment. Naming Chicharito, acknowledging the impact of Mexico on American soccer culture, all the while inviting Vela to assume the moniker of “son,” dependent on the organization and the community for reprieve and guidance.
It’s so far removed from corporations expecting consumers to show up and act accordingly every time they’re offered a supposed olive branch. It’s a purposeful marketing initiative that understands the bedrock of this new relationship must be trust and respect.
In the end, Los Angeles Football Club could be the shining example of how teams within the state, and around the league, should utilize marquee signings to galvanize local communities and reinvent the relationship between teams, players, fans, and the larger community. Still 7 months away from playing their first competitive match, it seems as if LAFC have already made the necessary inroads to become the face of MLS soccer in one of the league’s biggest and hottest markets.