Watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic go off for a hat trick Friday night as LA Galaxy and LAFC played a thrilling, physical, proper derby, we started thinking:
To figure this out, we’ll explore:
- How good is LAFC in MLS?
- How much talent does LAFC have on their roster?
- How does MLS compare to European leagues?
- How does LAFC statistically stack up against European clubs?
How good is this year’s LAFC?
LAFC is a legitimate MLS juggernaut. Even with Friday’s loss, their third of the season, LAFC are still 9 points clear of Galaxy in the Western conference. More impressively, they have an absurd +35 goal differential after 21 games.
For comparison’s sake, last year’s MLS Cup winner and juggernaut themselves, Atlanta United, finished the 34-game season +26.
The best goal differential in MLS history belongs to the 1998 LA Galaxy squad. Propelled by Cobi Jones leading the attack and Kevin Hartman between the sticks, that team finished +41 in a very different looking, quality-deprived league.
LAFC at +35 will likely blow the best goal differential record out of the water.
While goal differential is a much stronger indicator of a team’s quality than wins and losses, LAFC also have the single-season points record in their sights. That currently belongs to last year’s New York Red Bulls at 71. However, that team “only” was +29 for the season.
So it’s reasonable to say that after 21 games, LAFC are on track to record the greatest team season in MLS history.
How much talent is on LAFC’s roster?
LAFC have legitimate top-shelf talent…for MLS.
While Zlatan thinks (and for one night showed) otherwise, Carlos Vela has consistently been the best player in MLS all year. LAFC are dominant, but the real strength is their attack. Looking at WhoScored data, LAFC have four of the best 11 players (statistically) so far this season. All are midfielders / forwards:
How far ahead is Vela compared to the rest of the league?
For comparison’s sake, last year’s best player in MLS, Miguel Almiron, rated 7.7 on WhoScored. As we say, WhoScored isn’t the end all be all, but provides a solid measuring stick. Almiron was sold to Newcastle for $26M USD. Vela would never fetch the same price as Miggy (age being the biggest reason). However, Almiron stepped right in and was a top-half-of-the-roster contributor on a mid-table Premier League team. That would be a reasonable expectations for Vela (he’d even slot in well with a team like Wolverhampton).
After Vela, nobody on LAFC’s roster would likely earn starter minutes on any Prem squad other than recently promoted clubs or an off-team with a glaring positional hole. Domestic talent is there. Top European quality talent is sparse.
To further that point, LAFC’s total roster value is just over $43M. The below graphic is Transfermarkt’s top XI in the MLS in terms of value. These are the ballpark values clubs would expect to receive in transfer offers. It’s worth noting that Aaron Long is not among the four most valued defenders.
Anyway, market value has a startling direct correlation to team performance. Just look at Premier League team market values and where they finished in the table. Top 6 is almost in exact order of finish. Teams 7-10 are too, it’s just missing Wolves.
LAFC would have the 19th most expensive roster in the Premier League, and the lion’s share of that value is tied to one player.
MLS’ total league-wide market value is $652.53M USD. There are six teams in the Premier League alone with higher market values than the MLS as a league. MLS’ total value is comparable with Arsenal ($662M), who may not even crack the top 6 this year.
How does MLS compare to other leagues?
This is no besmirchment on MLS. It improves in quality every year. Other global domestic leagues have anywhere from a 40 to 100+ year head start on them.
We’re working on a larger post on this topic for early August. However, looking at Global Soccer Rankings on FiveThirtyEight and transfermarkt values, MLS would rank behind the following domestic leagues without question:
- English Premier League
- La Liga
- Serie A
- Ligue 1
- Primiera Liga
- Premier League (Russia)
- Süper Lig (Turkey)
- Liga MX
Other leagues like Super League (Switzerland) or Superliga (Argentina) have better top end teams and weaker bottom end clubs.
The point, LAFC is dominating a deep league… that lacks depth in the upper ranks.
So how would LAFC as a team do in Europe’s top leagues?
- LAFC has a Global Club Rank of 114.
- Their transfermarkt total would put them 19th out of 20 Premier League teams and somewhere among the bottom 3 for La Liga, Bundesliga, and Serie A.
- Their ClubElo rank then would approximate around 1575, which would be a top tier Championship level team.
So how would LAFC do in Europe?
- Premier League: They’d be a relegation candidate / would not qualify. They’d do well in the Championship.
- La Liga: Their roster value would put them in the relegation zone. However, their Global Soccer Ranking and ClubElo would have them as a top La Liga 2 squad.
- Bundesliga: Just copy+paste La Liga here. They likely wouldn’t qualify or would be a relegation candidate if they did. They’d be a top level Bundesliga 2 team.
- Serie A: Financially, Serie A is a bit stronger on the bottom end than the Bundesliga and La Liga. However, their Global Club Rankings and ClubElo indicate that LAFC would be right around the relegation zone.
- Ligue 1: I don’t really consider Ligue 1 in the same class as the other four leagues. It’s a big 4, not a big 5. To that point, LAFC would likely be a mid-table Ligue 1 squad. This is the first of the major European domestic leagues where they’d not only qualify, but hang.
After that, you could drop LAFC in the Netherlands or Portugal and while they wouldn’t compete for titles, they’d comfortably survive each year in the top half of the table.
So yes, LAFC is perhaps the greatest MLS squad of all time. But no, they wouldn’t compete with even the bottom teams of the top 4 European leagues just yet.
MLS is a good product that’s come a long ways. There’s still some distance from it’s top end and the rest of the world.