Two months after Gareth Bale made his on-field debut for the Los Angeles Football Club, the 33-year-old Welsh superstar has logged one start in nine appearances, contributing two goals and zero assists over 253 MLS minutes.
When Coach Steve Cherundolo started Bale on Aug. 26, LAFC lost, 4-1, in its worst showing of the year. During the half-hour preceding Bale’s removal in the 60th minute, Austin FC opened a four-goal lead while the Black & Gold looked incapable of combining or defending in their offensive third.
Cristian Arango, who alongside Carlos Vela joined the Real Madrid legend in the initial group of attackers, found the back of the net before Bale could take a seat. A chance built around the persistently buzzy play of Bale’s substitute, young Ghanian Mahala Opoku, immediately made LAFC more dangerous.
Questions about Bale’s form and fitness, which are of particular concern among his countrymen heading into Wales’ first World Cup appearance in 64 years, have been persistent since he arrived.
Cherundolo and the LAFC front office say Bale is match fit and, like any player, his ability to contribute depends on him. The coach explained that he is preoccupied with LAFC’s success, not preparing Bale for Qatar, and team decision-making is focused on bringing titles to the club this year.
LAFC (19-8-3, 60 points) has gone 5-4-0 since Bale’s debut in Nashville on July 17, trading a substantial Supporters’ Shield lead over Philadelphia for a three-point deficit.
On Saturday, a 2-1 gut-punch loss in Dallas marked the first time in 16 opportunities that LAFC gave points away from a winning position. It happened while Bale played the last half-hour with a 10-man team that fell short of what would have been a memorable win.
Yet as Bale struggles to produce on the field, there is one department where he’s hot.
Through Sept. 1, Bale’s No. 11 jersey sold more than any other player in the league’s online store, including LAFC club captain Carlos Vela, who has not finished outside the top three in sales since entering the league in 2018.
Tallying began in February but MLS announced on Monday that in about six weeks Bale’s Black & Gold Adidas kit was No. 1 with fans for the season. His immense appeal comes as no surprise, though that global status was supposed to be a perk rather than the most prevalent aspect of his contribution to LAFC.
Asked the day of Bale’s introduction if jersey sales factored into the free agent acquisition, LAFC general manager and co-president John Thorrington said not really.
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“That’s not at all our focus,” Thorrington explained. “Our focus is always how we are going to help this team win. That is the ultimate focus and filter through which we make all of these decisions. The bonus that he’s a very popular player worldwide is simply that – it’s a bonus and a marginal portion of the calculus rather than the focus.”
When he was introduced, Bale expressed a similar sentiment, hoping any attention he received would revolve around his play, whatever that looked like.
“I always want to be judged on performances alone, nothing else,” Bale said in July. “And If I’m not playing well then obviously there are some bad reports, then OK, that’s just something I need to perform better.”
Bale’s next chance comes Tuesday night against Minnesota United FC (13-12-5, 44 points). With five regular-season matches left, LAFC has a chance to stifle its road woes, clinch the top seed in the Western Conference and pull even in the Supporters’ Shield race with a victory.
LAFC AT MINNESOTA
When: Tuesday, 5 p.m. PT
Where: Allianz Field, Saint Paul, Minn.
TV/Radio: KCOP (Ch. 13), Estrella TV 62, 980 AM