Ever since Gareth Bale helped ensure that Wales would play in the World Cup for the first time since 1958, there has been only one question on the minds of his countrymen: For which club would he sign, and play, to prepare for the tournament?
The answer arrived Saturday: After running out his contract with Real Madrid and flirting with a return to his hometown, Bale, 32, has agreed to join Los Angeles F.C. in Major League Soccer in a move that will offer him regular playing time, plenty of sunshine and as many as five consecutive months of matches to sharpen his form before the World Cup kicks off in Qatar in late November.
With his Real Madrid contract expiring this summer, Bale announced his intent to leave Spain and has been available to any team as a free transfer. A five-time Champions League winner with Madrid, which had acquired him in 2013 for what was then a world-record fee of 100 millions euros (just over $105 million), he had become an afterthought at the club in recent years, playing rarely and feuding openly with the team and its fans all while rejecting any effort to move on.
Bale had flirted with a move to Cardiff City in his hometown in recent weeks before choosing M.L.S., and Los Angeles, when it came time to put pen to paper.
While a return to Wales would have been a popular and symbolic — Bale was born in Cardiff — his choice of Los Angeles may better suit his World Cup preparations. M.L.S. has moved its schedule forward this season to accommodate the World Cup, ensuring Bale a steady diet of games from July through October, and then either a playoff push or a brief break before the World Cup.
L.A.F.C. currently leads the Western Conference standings, and it entered Saturday with the league’s best record. Adding Bale and the veteran Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini — whose introduction is set for next week — to a team that already features the Mexican star Carlos Vela could make L.A.F.C. an M.L.S. Cup favorite this fall.
Once his signing with M.L.S. becomes official, Bale could be positioned to make his debut for his new team against the crosstown Los Angeles Galaxy on July 8. That derby, known as El Tráfico in a wink at the city’s perpetual headache, has been home to major moments in the past: In 2018, the Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic entered the game, his first in M.L.S., and scored one of the most famous goals in league history.
Bale’s main focus, though, will be the World Cup. Wales opens the tournament on its first day, Nov. 21. Its opponent that day? The United States.