Season in Review: LAFC serves up formidable, strong first year

Photo Credit: John A. Babiak @Photog_JohnB

Los Angeles, California — A third place finish and a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

When Los Angeles FC was founded, there was an uncertainty of how the team would perform on the pitch. Just a year before, Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC were the two new expansion clubs on the block. However, while one team had immediate success — Atlanta — the latter did not.

Season in Review: LAFC serves up formidable, strong first year

However, LAFC decided to follow in Atlanta’s footsteps.

In the club’s inaugural season, LAFC, under the leadership of head coach Bob Bradley, recorded a 16-9-9 record. The newest team in Los Angeles finished in third place in the Western Conference with 57 points. However, the post-season journey came to an abrupt halt.

Real Salt Lake, the Western Conference sixth-seed, upset LAFC with a 3-2 victory at the Banc of America Stadium. Meanwhile, the team did find success in other tournaments, including the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

In its first year in the tournament, LAFC made it to the semifinals, falling to the eventual champions, the Houston Dynamo. To get there, though, LAFC defeated Fresno FC, Sacramento Republic FC and fellow MLS team, the Portland Timbers.

While LAFC had a solid first season, the club is aiming high. Bradley is not a coach to sit back and accept anything other than first place. Here’s what happened this season and what can be improved on for 2019.

Team MVP: Carlos Vela

It’s hard to compete against this pick.

The first-ever designated player in LAFC history was the top scorer for his club this season. Vela scored 14 goals and also led the team in assists, providing 13. No other player on the LAFC roster had double-digit assists.

Only two other forwards, Diego Rossi and Adama Diomande, scored double-digit goals. Both players recorded 12 goals each.

Vela also led the team in shots (97) and shots on goal (44).

Despite spending some of the summer away with Mexico for the FIFA World Cup, Vela provided countless leadership too. Often the captain after Laurent Ciman was sold during the summer transfer window, Vela was vocal and full of action. His work on the pitch did all the talking when it needed to.

Vela will be the biggest weapon LAFC next season. Surely, Bradley will find some other attacking players to supplement him, but it’ll be hard to find someone who can score more goals than Vela.

What went wrong in 2018?

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly went wrong.

There was nothing concrete that broke this team. LAFC just had a bad match against Real Salt Lake. It seemed like Real Salt Lake had all the momentum on their side. In a tight race for the last spot in the Western Conference, Real Salt Lake narrowly took the spot over the LA Galaxy.

With that, momentum is huge — and Real Salt Lake had soaring confidence.

However, if there was a specific case of a player that underperformed, it would be Marco Ureña. The Costa Rican forward recently had his option declined by LAFC after a one-goal season. Ureña started in 11 of 18 appearances, totaling 1,015 minutes.

However, he only found 12 shots on goal out of 28 total attempts.

His five assists were a highlight of 2018, though. However, Ureña — who went to the FIFA World Cup with Costa Rica, crashing out of the group stage — will look to have a comeback season with the Chicago Fire in 2019. He was recently selected by the club in the MLS Waiver Draft on Dec. 12.

What went right in 2018?

Having Bob Bradley as a head coach is a huge plus.

This is a coach that doesn’t just have club experience, but international as well. The resume is long for Bradley, the father of Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley. The senior Bradley, who is 60-years-old, coached at D.C. United, the former MetroStars, Chicago Fire and the former Chivas USA in MLS.

Around the world, Bradley coached the U.S. Men’s National Team from 2006-11, taking the nation to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. His international experience was continued when hired Egypt hired Bradley from 2011-13.

He even had a short stint in the English Premier League with Swansea City.

Despite what seems like a long coaching carousel, Bradley’s experience certainly helped LAFC this year. Having a veteran head coach can make all the difference. Bradley was seemingly given the reins for the roster, building it exactly how he wanted it. He took a risk by bringing in Tyler Miller at goalkeeper, who only started two regular-season games for the Seattle Sounders before coming to Los Angeles.

Bradley has always been one to take risks — and he’ll certainly do it again next season.

How to improve for 2018: Help Vela out

The defense was strong this season for LAFC.

So was the offense and everything in between. However, a lone striker can only come in handy until teams realize another team’s strong player and double-teams the player. Bradley needs to spend the off-season finding some help for Vela up front. He thought he was getting that with Ureña, but that proved unsuccessful.

If Vela has some help up top, LAFC can spend a second straight year in the playoffs — and as being the top team in Los Angeles.


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