LOS ANGELES, CALIF. (March 3, 2019) – The first match of the 2019 season could not come soon enough for the Los Angeles Football Club. After a disappointing elimination from the MLS Cup Playoffs last season, at the hands of Real Salt Lake, LAFC begun to look towards year two, towards today.
The fist match of the 2019 season gave LAFC a chance to exorcise demons and prove to themselves, and those around the league that they are a team to fear heading into their second season. Last season was marred with injuries to key players, a midfield that found it hard to defend or keep possession, and a departure to one of the leaders of the club. Tonight was an opportunity to put all of that behind them and focus on the future, and the future is bright.
Adama Diomande gets extra time goal to win it for LAFC in season opener
From kickoff it was clear Sporting KC came into the match with a plan. A very physical plan. Sporting got their first yellow ten minutes into the match and it only continued. Finishing the match with five yellows and one red card, there was some method to the madness. Los Angeles Football Club’s midfielder, Lee Nguyen, and winger, Carlos Vela, were the targets of the physical play with both winning five fouls each. With those two players being the main source of creation within the LAFC attack, it was clear SKC were not keen to let the strike force gather momentum with link up play.
This style of play is nothing new for Los Angeles who ended their inaugural campaign as the most fouled team in Major League Soccer. In his post match press conference Los Angeles Football Club Head Coach, Bob Bradley, said “We are a team that creates advantages, has an attacking mentality, and now, you see teams try to disrupt the way we play.”
This is not a team that folds under physical play, and despite giving up an early goal, never wavered in their game plan.
Same formation, different tactics
It is no secret that LAFC coach, Bob Bradley, draws inspiration from famed football powerhouse, Spain’s FC Barcelona, and this season highlights that. Though coming out in their typical 4-3-3 formation to start the match, the style of play was noticeably different from last season’s. Much like the Spanish powerhouse, LAFC have begun to use their fullbacks as more of a full/wing hybrid. This is nothing new as Barcelona employs the same style of play with their fullbacks, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto, constantly playing forward with the attack to provide that additional width.
As with all styles of play, there are risks that come along and a huge risk of this style is leaving your center defenders prone to quick counter attacks. This was evident throughout the match as more than a handful of times SKC found themselves with possession in the middle of the field, streaking past right back, Steven Beitashour, on route to great opportunities to extend their lead.
The reason this style of play works so well for Barcelona comes down to the sheer amount of talent on the squad. When your midfield consists of the likes of Busquets, Rakitic and Vidal, you feel more confident in the ability to keep possession and defend well in the middle of the field. Obviously, LAFC don’t have players of that caliber, but in relation to the rest of the MLS, they do have the talent to make this system work. They have creative attackers who are also excellent finishers. More importantly, if LAFC are to have the most success playing this way, they will have to clean up possession amongst their midfield.
Midfield worries continues
One of the bigger issues for Los Angeles last season was their inability to maintain possession in the midfield. There is undeniable talent in this midfield with a handful of players who, on their day, can create space and opportunity with the best of them. The problem with having such talent, is they could find themselves trying to do a little too much. Such is the case with LAFC. Too many times against Sporting, LAFC found themselves trying to track back against quick counters after either losing or giving up possession during build ups. Los Angeles finished the match with 82% pass accuracy but had only 62% accuracy in the final third.
However, there is hope. Mark-Anthony Kaye may not be as creative as his midfield cohorts, but that has helped him develop into the defensive anchor amongst the midfield. The 24-year-old enjoyed an incredible start to the season last year before an ankle injury left him out for the remainder. He returned to competitive action last night with hopes on continuing to build on his role within the team. By his own admission he did not play as well as he had hoped, tweeting out after the match
Last night was something I’ve been missing for a long time. Thank you to all my teammates and staff @LAFC and @LAFC3252 , for sticking by me this whole time. I didn’t play the best I could last night but it’s a step in the right direction and I will continue to improve. #Grateful
— Mark-Anthony Kaye (@MarkThEwizz) March 4, 2019
Even with him not at his best, the problems weren’t on his side of the pitch. It was on the other end that Sporting found their most success in attack, and on a different night, or maybe against a more clinically finishing team, it would have ended differently for the Black and Gold. As it stands, three points, at home, on match day one is all you could ask for, surely improvements will continue to be made.
Second Half Improvements and The Late Winner
Okay, the part everyone has been gleefully waiting for. If there is one thing that cannot be questioned with this Los Angeles side, it is their determination to play to the very end. Including last night LAFC have had five matches decided in extra time. Of the five matches, three were victories, one draw, and the infamous Galaxy loss. This team has built a never say quit mentality that was on full display once again last night. After taking a punishment from SKC throughout the first half, LAFC started the second half with purpose as Diego Rossi took advantage of a beautifully placed cross, made short work of defender, Graham Zusi, and slotted in a curler into the bottom corner for LAFC’s first goal of the 2019 season. That early second half goal sparked the fight inside, with Los Angeles themselves earning three yellow cards in the second half of the match.
In the lead up to the night’s biggest moment, Sporting KC saw midfielder Roger Espinoza get shown his second yellow, and subsequent red card, in the 84′ forcing SKC to finish the match with 10 men. LAFC smelled blood and immediately took advantage. The attack shifted into one last gear as they began to focus on the now open right side of SKC’s formation. That focus paid off as a ball to defender Jordan Harvey began an attack that saw striker, Adama Diomande, pluck the ball from his foot, just as he shifted play to the right, finding just enough room to get a look and the eventual game winning goal.
The pair had fun with the moment during the press conference, as Dio was answering questions, Harvey arrived declaring, “you took my goal man!”
After laughter Dio responded, “Sorry man, I just wanted that goal bro.” Indeed he got that goal, and as he celebrated with the famed 3252, he got a bit of a beer bath as a reward.
90' + 4 | #LAFC GOOAAAAALL!!!
— LAFC (@LAFC) March 4, 2019
For LAFC the season could not have started better. A comeback at home, full three points, and a win against the only team in the league to sweep them in 2018. They get to enjoy another week at home as they host the Portland Timbers, Sunday March 10. With it only being match day one, it is still too early to make any clear statements, but should LAFC continue to improve on last night’s performance, they will find themselves fighting for the Cup come fall.