Editorial (April 15, 2019) — Three.
That’s how many teams remain unbeaten in Major League Soccer. While all three teams reside in the Western Conference, only one has begun to separate themselves: the Los Angeles Football Club.
With all due respect to the Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders, LAFC have been on another level to start the season.
Unbeaten through seven, Los Angeles FC is showing championship mentality
Leading the league in points, goals and assists, LAFC have been a team on a mission since match day one. To say that Los Angeles came into the season wanting to dominate would be a bit much. However, it is a byproduct of a larger focus.
Los Angeles manager Bob Bradley has made no secret of his team’s goal in season two, which is the MLS Cup. After last season’s playoff disappoint, LAFC knew it had to come out focused, on the same page and aggressive this year. Through the first seven matches they have done all of those things. With that has come a sense of domination.
— LAFC (@LAFC) April 14, 2019
Opponent: FC Cincinnati
Domination comes in many different forms. Often times it isn’t about how many you win by, but more about how you win and the consistency of winning. As good as the 4-0 and 5-0 victories are, matches like the season opener — and recently against FC Cincinnati — are what mold champions.
While the season opener could be written off as rust, it was a match in which LAFC did not play well. However, LAFC found a way to win. They kept mistakes at a minimum, remained aggressive in attack and never once settled for the draw.
The same could be said about the recent 2-0 win over new club, FC Cincinnati. While many assumed they would be seeing another rout, it was a rare off-day. LAFC were able to continue to find space against a physical Cincinnati defense, but struggled to finish. Missing several open chances early on, as well as allowing the visitors to find counter attacks of their own, had many inside The Banc anxious.
In the 26th minute Mark-Anthony Kaye missed a wide open shot when he found space in the middle of the box and just mis-hit.
It didn’t take long for Kaye to make up for his mistake. In the 32nd minute, a corner kick from Carlos Vela found the Kaye who nodded it into the corner. The rest of the match was mostly LAFC maintaining possession and limiting mistakes.
Vela added a second goal in added time to send the fans home happy, in what was a far-from convincing win. After the match Bradley addressed the performance saying, “We weren’t as sharp as I’d like. The kind of football we want to play in terms of quality of passing, timing, finding the right spaces, some of those things still went up and down.”
"We’re not a team that has one script that gets thrown out there all the time."
Bob Bradley is keeping opponents guessing. pic.twitter.com/nizzUqsJfY
— LAFC (@LAFC) April 15, 2019
Different animal, same beast
While LAFC may not have been the picture of perfection, they did flex a very important trait in any championship team: adaptation.
That has been one of the more impressive things about LAFC in comparison to last season. In 2018, LAFC was the most fouled team in the league and that trend looks to be continuing as they currently sit top in fouls suffered. However, there is a key difference this year. Fouls committed and LAFC sat near the bottom last season with just over 350.
While you may be thinking having the fewest fouls is good, there is a lot to be said about not being bullied. Think of it like the famous Rope-A-Dope from Muhammad Ali. What was amazing about it was not only was Ali absorbing shots from the hardest hitter on the planet at the time, but he was able to then go on the attack to get the knockout victory.
That is where LAFC are right now. All 2018 and so far in 2019 they have taken the punishment. Foul after foul, disrupted build-ups, from every team in the league. Now it’s time to go on the offensive.
Through seven matches, LAFC have already committed 93 fouls, which is on pace to well surpass last season’s total. LAFC have begun to stun the rest of the MLS.
Many teams have felt that way this season as LAFC have dished out just as much as they have taken. Four of their matches have seen red cards, all to opponents, which shows LAFC aren’t just fouling to foul, but doing so smartly. They are picking their shots, and it won’t be long before they are striking a knockout blow and shocking the league.
8 goals, 5 assists.
— LAFC (@LAFC) April 16, 2019
No longer are LAFC the team that just takes the physicality. They are now the team that will take it, let you wear down and then get physical with you even more until you finally breakdown and concede.
That mentality shift has bred a confidence that has led to an LAFC team that knows just how good they can be. They are starting to express themselves — and it shows — in goals and in wins.
LAFC have a mid-week trip to face the winless Vancouver Whitecaps. Vancouver have allowed six goals over the last four matches, while LAFC have scored 11 over the last three. Much like the San Jose match, it is difficult to expect much in the way of resistance from Vancouver.
Even with a quick turnaround and possibly squad rotation, expect a three or four goal performance and a win from LAFC. While they have shown they can grind out a win while playing at their worst, perhaps the scariest prospect for the rest of the MLS, is that we have yet to be shown their best.