For some members of the Black-and-Red, flying across the country this weekend is just the first trip of the MLS regular season. For others, it’s a trip home.
While veterans are used to the flight, some rookies are having to adapt quickly. The flight from Washington to Los Angeles is nearly the same distance for Julian Büscher to get home to his native country Germany. In MLS, East Coast/West Coast trips bring out another level of competition and grind on players that other leagues around the world couldn’t imagine. But players like Sean Franklin, Steve Birnbaum, Marcelo, Miguel Aguilar and Kofi Opare all welcome the long travel, as it means a trip back home (or for Franklin, Opare and Marcelo, a chance to see old teammates).
Last game in CA: August 27, 2014 D.C. United at LA Galaxy
Hailing from Panorama City, CA., Franklin played college soccer at Cal State Northridge and still has quite a bit of family in California. Over 30 friends and family, in fact, will make it to the StubHub Center Sunday. Many are familiar with the venue; Franklin spent the first 6 seasons of his career at LA Galaxy before joining United in 2014. The composed defender developed into a reliable outside back during his time in Southern California; he was MLS Rookie of the Year in 2008 and won an MLS Cup in 2012. “It’s a special place to play, especially in front of family, friends and old teammates,” Franklin said. “I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Last game in CA: January 31, 2016 USMNT v Iceland
The Newport, CA., native played college soccer at the University of California. Birnbaum, like Franklin, will also have many friends and family at Stubhub on Sunday and like Franklin’s, they are familiar with the venue. After spending five years in California for school, this January the central defender’s career came full circle in the state where it all began. Jurgen Klinsmann called him into January national team camp and after earning his way into the starting lineup against Iceland, Birnbaum began his international soccer career with a bang, providing a game-tying assist, as well as scoring the winner in stoppage time. “It was a surreal moment, and I was so happy I was able to do it in front of family and friends,” Birnbaum said afterwards.
Last game in CA: October 19, 2014 LA Galaxy v Seattle Sounders
While Marcelo has no family ties in Cali, the city was his home for three years, where he won two MLS Cups (one with Sean Franklin in 2012). After being traded to Colorado in 2014, Marcelo is slowly regaining the confidence and love for soccer he had in LA. Now with another new team, heading back to LA for the first trip of a new journey should not only provide some motivation, but allow the suave Brazilian to play comfortably at a venue he knows well.
Last game in CA: November 7, 2014 (SFU vs. Loyola Marymount)
Aguilar spent his college career at University of San Francisco, where he was able to advance his game and develop his own playing style. After being suspended due to yellow-card accumulation in the first leg of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, a return to familiar grounds could be just what the speedy second-year winger needs to get off to hot start in the league this season.
Last game in CA: May 21, 2014 LA Galaxy v FC Dallas
Opare, who played his college soccer at the University of Michigan, began his MLS career with the LA Galaxy in 2013, alongside Franklin and Marcelo. For Opare, a return back to where his career was launched can only fuel his motivation to help the Black-and-Red achieve what LA did the year after his entrance to MLS: an MLS Cup.
United have a competitive history with LA Galaxy, that we all know, but what makes this trip special to kick off the 2016 season is to see how far MLS has come in defining itself. No longer are the two opposing coastal teams the only strong outfits. With depth up and down the league, each trip, no matter how far or long, is equal in importance. For some United players, kicking off the 21st regular season with a stop in a familiar place can go a long way to create some early momentum, which United will look to carry on throughout the year.
Kickoff at the Stubhub Center is at 10pm ET live on UniMás.