EDITORIAL – Los Angeles FC are the 2019 Supporters’ Shield champions. They will play only home games in the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. They have one regular season match remaining, a home game against Colorado Rapids. Colorado need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Like them, other Western Conference teams need to figure out how to beat LAFC.
How to Beat LAFC
LAFC have lost just four league matches all season (at Vancouver, at Colorado, at LA Galaxy, and hosting Minnesota United). They also lost an Open Cup match at home to Portland Timbers.
The league’s best regular season team ever (by several metrics) have cooled off since their mid-season run. Carlos Vela appears to have recovered from his hamstring injury. Walker Zimmerman has regressed since the Gold Cup.
Isolate and minimize Vela:
The LAFC captain is a likely MLS MVP favorite. He’s had a fantastic season with 31 goals but has cooled off since the hamstring injury against LA Galaxy. In almost every LAFC loss this year, the opponent has done well isolating Vela in the build up play and limiting his chances in the box.
With no viable center forward available down the stretch, Vela has moved from the wing to the middle, making him less dangerous and easier to gang up on down the central channel.
Opponents should continue to cut off service to Vela and give him little space on the ball especially in the box if they want to beat LAFC.
Counter attacking and set pieces:
LAFC have consistently had two weaknesses in defense. They like to possess the ball and move numbers forward. This has been a calculated risk by Bob Bradley’s side. They’ve normally been able to protect against this by scoring a bunch of goals.
They also control the ball long enough to limit the other team’s chances. Opponents should be able to turn the ball over in their final third and break out quickly. LAFC are weak in the air, so being prepared and dangerous in the air, especially on corners, will be critical.
Minnesota did this perfectly in their match at Banc of California Stadium.
Get a lead and hope for the best:
In three of LAFC’s four losses this year, the opponent scored first. In the game at LA Galaxy, the Gs went up 2-1 and held onto that lead to the end. Scoring first is a bit obvious key to beat LAFC.
This team at times in pressure moments has lacked a killer instinct. If the visiting team can score first and has already established a sound defensive structure without the ball, they could put the pressure on LAFC while playing with house money.
It’s not a great plan, but it may be the only viable option to beat LAFC for several playoff teams.