A New Stadium for the LA Wildcats?

Will the LA Wildcats be moving to the Banc of California Stadium? (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The fifth week of the XFL season once again saw several teams put up solid attendance numbers. The Houston Roughnecks had 19,773 fans attend their home game against Seattle. The Dallas Renegades welcomed 15,950 fans to Globe Life Park and the DC Defenders hosted a crowd of 16,342 on Sunday. 

Lost in the shuffle was that once again, the Los Angeles Wildcats struggled to pack Dignity Health Sports Park, announcing a crowd of 12,181 fans for their thrilling 41-34 win over Tampa Bay. After three home games, the Wildcats are averaging just 13,124 fans per game. While those numbers are respectable, LA is the only team in the XFL that hasn’t cracked 15,000 fans at a game yet.

Thankfully, it has been reported that the team and the XFL are being proactive about options to grow the Wildcats fan base. 

The biggest concern appears to be location. While Dignity Health Sports Park is a nice enough stadium, the LA Chargers have already shown that playing in Carson, Calif. is not ideal. The stadium is too far of a drive for many fans and it has limited public transportation options. 

The goal appears to be to move the Wildcats to a more centralized location. Early reports state that the XFL is focusing on moving its LA franchise into the city proper, most likely playing at the new Banc of California Stadium. Built in 2018, it is currently the home of Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles FC and it sits across the street from the University of Southern California.

This move seems like an ideal fit for LA’s XFL team. Banc of California Stadium is a beautiful, new venue that seats 22,000 fans. It isn’t a behemoth like MetLife Stadium (where the New York Guardians play) or Raymond James Stadium (home of the Tampa Bay Vipers). Plus, it’s in the heart of Exposition Park and would be a much more viable location for an up-and-coming pro football team. 

While the XFL’s more immediate concerns are to deal with the logistics of the recent corona virus outbreak, it’s great to see that the league is still focused on the long-term growth strategy for the Wildcats.

LA will play its next game on Sunday night, travelling to Seattle to take on the Dragons at 4 p.m. PT. Fans will not be able to attend in person, but the game will air on ESPN2.  

Preview: XFL Tampa Bay Vipers at Los Angeles Wildcats

Game: Tampa Bay Vipers at Los Angeles Wildcats
Date: Sunday
Time: 6 p.m.  (Pacific)
Location: Dignity Health Sports Park (Carson, Calif.)
TV: ESPN
Spread: LA -2.5

The XFL’s midway point is this weekend, and although there are still five weeks left in the season, it’s fair to call Sunday’s clash between the Los Angeles Wildcats and the Tampa Bay Vipers as a must-win game for each team.  Both teams come into the game sitting at 1-3 and needing to start a second half push if they’re going to make the playoffs.

The Wildcats return home following a 17-14 loss to the New York Guardians. Los Angeles has the third best scoring offense in the XFL (22 PPG) thanks to the league’s best passing offense. Behind the stellar arm of quarterback Josh Johnson, the Wildcats are averaging 244.5 passing yards.

Tampa Bay heads across the country after winning its first game of the season last week. The Vipers dominated the DC Defenders, 25-0. The Vipers lead the XFL in rushing yards per game, averaging 171.5 yards on the ground. It showed against DC as Tampa Bay’s tandem of De’Veon Smith and Jacques Patrick each eclipsed the 100-yard mark last week. Smith finished with 122 yards while Patrick had 108 yards and one rushing touchdown.

The Vipers also have the XFL’s top-ranked defense. Tampa Bay has allowed just 237.3 YPG, while picking up five sacks and two interceptions in four games.

As LA returns home, it must overcome several key injuries. The Wildcats leading receiver, Nelson Spruce, did not practice all week as he battles a knee injury, and LA’s leading rusher, Martez Carter, was limited in practice with a hip injury. Meanwhile, LA kicker Nick Novak was put on injured reserve and replaced by former Oakland Raider and Atlanta Falcon kicker Giorgio Tavecchio.

Tampa Bay’s one notable injury is Smith, who was limited in practice this week with an injured foot.

Off the field, the Vipers were in the headlines this week because of a budding quarterback controversy. Quinton Flowers briefly left the team and was replaced at starting quarterback by Taylor Cornelius. Flowers has since returned to the team but has requested a trade, which has not been granted. The current Vipers depth chart lists Cornelius as the starter, with Flowers as the third-string quarterback behind Aaron Murray.

Los Angeles will host the Vipers on Sunday night at 6 p.m. For fans that can’t attend in person, the game will be broadcast on ESPN.

XFL LA Wildcats sign new players including kicker Giorgio Tavecchio

Former University of California kicker Giorgio Tavecchio.

The Los Angeles Wildcats are gearing up for a big home game against the Tampa Bay Vipers on Sunday night at 6 p.m. In preparation for that game, the Wildcats have made a handful of roster moves designed to give LA its best chance at victory.

The most notable change comes at the kicker position. Nick Novak, who started the last three games for LA, struggled mightily last week in a 17-14 loss to the New York Guardians. The former Maryland kicker missed two field goals, one of which was blocked, as the Wildcats fell by three points at MetLife Stadium. It was rumored all week, and confirmed on Tuesday, that Novak was hurt. Therefore, LA sent him to injured reserve and signed former University of California kicker Giorgio Tavecchio.

Tavecchio, a native of Milan, Italy, spent two seasons in the NFL. He played for the Oakland Raiders in 2017,  converting 16-of-21 field goals and 33-of-34 extra points. The next season, Tavecchio found himself on the Atlanta Falcons roster. He played in three games and was a perfect five-for-five on field goals to go along with a stellar eight-of-eight on extra points. His career long field goal is 56 yards.

The Wildcats also signed defensive tackle Andrew Stelter, defensive end Victor Ochi and defensive end Alex Jenkins. Along with Novak, LA placed defensive tackle Trevon Sanders on injured reserved and waived wide receiver Kermit Whitfield.

Currently, the Wildcats have 51 players on their roster with one open roster spot.

Tre McBride bursts into the XFL with the Wildcats

Tre McBride finishes off a 40-yard catch with a dive over the goal line. (Credit: XFL.com)

One of the XFL’s biggest selling points is that it’s a showcase league for players that never got a proper shake in the NFL. Over the past two weeks, the player that has absolutely made the most of his opportunity is Los Angeles Wildcats wide receiver Tre McBride.

McBride is a native of Killeen, Texas who played at FCS lightweight The College of William & Mary. He impressed NFL scouts just enough that the Tennessee Titans took a seventh round flyer on him in the 2015 NFL Draft, landing McBride with the 245th pick.

McBride spent two frustrating seasons with the Titans. In both 2015 and 2016, McBride started the year on Tennessee’s practice squad, only to be called up late in each campaign due to injuries. He was active for just nine games and was only targeted four times over two seasons. He finished his career in Nashville, Tenn. with two receptions for eight yards and one touchdown, adding another eight yards on his only NFL carry.

From there, McBride was signed by the Chicago Bears. He played in eight games during the 2017 campaign, hauling in eight balls for 144 yards. Again though, McBride was never going to be the focal point of Chicago’s offense and he was waived on November 28, 2017.

Since that fateful day, McBride has been a journeyman workhorse, bouncing around the fringes of pro football. He found himself on the practice squads of three different NFL teams, spending time with the New York Jets, Washington Redskins and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Eventually, he gave up on the NFL and saw the XFL as an opportunity to re-invent himself.

Unfortunately, McBride’s path to pro football’s newest spring league couldn’t even go smoothly. McBride was originally drafted by the DC Defenders, the final player taken in the second round. Four months later, McBride was on the move again. He was traded to the Wildcats for Rashad Ross. Then, when the XFL season finally kicked off, McBride was forced to sit out with an injury.

That is a twisted path to play pro football. However, McBride, like so many other players in the XFL is playing for the love of the game. In his case, the wait has been worth it. Over the past two weeks, McBride has become a Wildcats sensation, hauling in 13 balls for 236 yards and three touchdowns. Despite missing half of the season, McBride is now the fifth leading wide out in receiving yards in the XFL.

Two weeks ago, McBride burst onto the scene with a five-catch, 109-yard performance with a pair of touchdowns. His phenomenal showing helped LA win its first ever XFL game, beating McBride’s old DC Defenders team 39-9. Last week, despite LA losing 17-14 to the New York Guardians, McBride has a tremendous day with eight receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown.

Los Angeles will look to have more of the same from its newfound go-to receiver on Sunday when the Wildcats host the Tampa Bay Vipers at 6 p.m.

Three key takeaways from the LA Wildcats loss to the Guardians

LA Wildcats QB Josh Johnson
LA Wildcats QB Josh Johnson – LA Wildcats At NY Guardians 29 Feb 2020 – Credit Adam McCullough

There’s an old football adage that the hardest games to win are cross country trips, taking a team from the West Coast to the East Coast. The Los Angeles Wildcats learned that lesson the hard way on Saturday, falling 17-14 to the New York Guardians. The Wildcats were competitive throughout the contest at MetLife Stadium, but couldn’t overcome a strong defensive showing from the home team.

Here are three key takeaways from LA’s loss, dropping it to 1-3 on the young XFL season.

#1. Offensively, the Wildcats are too one dimensional

The passing display between LA quarterback Josh Johnson and wide receiver Tre McBride was something special on Saturday. The dynamic duo took New York by storm, connecting for 127 yards and a touchdown. Over the past two weeks, Johnson has found his favorite target 13 times for 236 yards and three touchdowns.

The problem is that while LA’s passing game is superb, the ground game is nowhere to be found. On Saturday, the Wildcats ran the ball 13 times for just 40 yards. This created too many third-and-long situations and forced the Wildcats into predictable passing situations. The result was a team that went just 2-of-12 on third down with a woeful conversion rate of 17 percent.

#2. Defensively, the Wildcats mean business

Los Angeles head coach Winston Moss made waves when he fired LA’s defensive coordinator, Pepper Johnson, one game into the season. Johnson is a decorated NFL player and coach, winning a combined five Super Bowls and spending 13 years as an assistant coach under Bill Belichick. However, after the Wildcats gave up 37 points against the Houston Roughnecks in their opener, Moss felt that he needed to make a change. That move has paid off over the past two games.

On Saturday, LA held the Guardians to 250 total yards and just 5-of-13 on third down (38 percent). The defense also sacked New York quarterback Luis Perez three times, keeping the Wildcats in the game until the final minutes of the contest. Last week, against the D.C. Defenders, the Los Angeles defense was even better, allowing just nine points against one of the XFL’s most potent offenses. It’s a small sample size, but right now, the LA defense is keeping the Wildcats competitive.

#3. Even in a league that is trying to limit special teams, kicking matters

As Moss and the Wildcats head back to Southern California, they can find positives in almost every aspect of their game. The one area that needs an immediate upgrade though is the kicking game. Right now, the Wildcats have converted just 2-of-5 field goals this season. On Saturday, LA could have won, or at least forced overtime, if kicker Nick Novak knocked down his field goals. Unfortunately, he had one kick blocked and pushed his second attempt wide of the uprights. Those miscues were the difference between an LA team flying home happy with a .500 record and a squad looking to rebound at 1-3.

Looking ahead, the Wildcats have a great chance to get back to their winning ways next week. On March 8, LA will host a struggling Tampa Bay Vipers team at 9 p.m.