Questions for LAFC after shocking loss to Orlando City SC

LAFC MLS is Back
Photo of LAFC courtesy of Devin L'Amoreaux and Matthew Stith/Major League Soccer.

Editorial — MLS is back, and with it, chaos. While LAFC may have been favorites to win the tournament in Orlando, the obstacles they had to overcome just became too overwhelming in the end. Orlando City SC deserves credit for the upset win over the league’s best team.

The match itself was peak MLS from beginning to end. There was chippy play, two yellow cards in the first 10 minutes, a goal called back by VAR and penalties. While LAFC had another poor first half, Orlando did well to put the pressure on. Peppering the goal with shots, pressing, dispossessing attackers in the midfield, they played a nearly perfect match.

The only negative, was their inability to finish their chances, which made LAFC all the more dangerous in the second-half of a scoreless match.

Finishing with only seven shots, LAFC only needed one of them to find the back of the net in the 60th minute. Diego Rossi was able to maneuver through the defense and find Bradley-Wright Phillips for the goal from two feet out. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, that wouldn’t be enough. Former LAFC SuperDraft first pick João Moutinho brought things level  in the 90th minute with a goal off a corner.

Penalties for LAFC and Orlando

With no extra time in the MLS is Back Tournament, it was straight to penalties after remaining level after regulation. Neither goalkeeper was able to make a stop, with the difference coming by way of a Jordan Harvey miss. The veteran defender used more power than precision and hit the crossbar for LAFC’s lone miss. To Orlando’s credit, they didn’t let the moment get too big for them.

Nani, who had a penalty saved in regulation, was able to redeem himself when it counted most. His goal was the fifth and final goal, sending Orlando on to the semifinals.

Why this loss matters for LAFC

Surely, many LAFC fans will write this tournament off as one that holds no weight. Understandably, many will point to not having Carlos Vela, the loss of Adama Diomande, the weather conditions or lack of rest. While all of those things are true, they still don’t change the fact LAFC should be preparing to face either San Jose or Minnesota.

After struggling during group stage, they seemed to find their rhythm during their thumping of Seattle. However, anyone who has followed this team closely knew that Orlando was a trap game. Its was the perfect storm with an inferior side in the middle of a great run of form. With an LAFC squad not only without their best player, but coming off an emotional ‘revenge’ win.

After three years, it’s safe to call this a startling trend. LAFC has an emotional win, they face a team they should overcome with relative ease, and they leave themselves vulnerable for the upset. Whether it be Real Salt Lake in the 2018 playoffs, Houston Dynamo in the 2018 US Open Cup, Portland Timbers in the 2019 Open Cup or Seattle Sounders in the 2019 playoffs, LAFC have had let downs in each time. It feels harsh to say, but you can’t ignore the evidence over a three year span.

This tournament was their chance to right a lot of those wrongs, while doing it without Vela. Trying to tarnish the tournament is unfair to the players, who constantly stated how much they wanted to win. Look no further than the reactions after losing to Orlando.

Bob Bradley had steam spewing from his ears and laser beams shooting from his eyes. This tournament mattered to them.

Questions to be Asked

To be very clear, this isn’t an editorial to bash Los Angeles. This isn’t a eulogy for their demise or kicking them while they’re down. This is simply asking a relevant question, of a team that has been, most times by far, the best in the entire league. Especially for a team in Los Angeles, being the best during regular season, only to never make it to a Finals match, won’t cut it for much longer.

They are team that is far too talented, with a head coach far too great, to come up short this many times. In actuality it is a sign of how improved the MLS has gotten. Bob Bradley was able to win the MLS Cup with then expansion side Chicago Fire in 1998.

In 2018, he almost repeated that feat, but more importantly, he set the foundations for a possible dynasty. This tournament especially proved that this team has all the pieces tactically, talent-wise and in coaching. While playing some of their worst football throughout, they were still able to finish group stage unbeaten, with a sack-full of goals.

Perhaps they are a victim of their own rapid success. Having become so good in such a short time, means the pressure to fill the cabinet with proper silverware, is rising. What’s even more worrisome, is the window this team has, as constructed, is closing fast. This team seems to do well when ‘revenge’ is a factor, but sustaining that for an MLS Cup run isn’t possible. With the pandemic, MLB has proven chances of finishing out a 2020 season are low. In addition, with Europe eyeing several players, the chances this squad remains in-tact for 2021, are even lower.

The Road Ahead for LAFC

If only it were as simple as needing depth at a position, or to point at changes that can be made tactically. Except, it isn’t. As mentioned a dozen times in a dozen different articles, this is the best team in the league. They are the deepest, have the most talent, and have shown whether on their day or not, can win and win big. In fact, the cruel irony in the loss to Orlando, is that LAFC had poor keeper play throughout, only to have Vermeer put on one of the best goalkeeping performances this team has seen, only to be undone by a penalty shootout. Vermeer saved the first Nani penalty attempt in regulation, and made a handful of saves to keep LAFC within striking distance as Orlando peppered the goal.

Unfortunately, the issue seems mental. With Carlos Vela, or without, it always seems to be something that causes LAFC to falter. Whether it’s an emotionally draining match the previous time out, a Mark-Anthony Kaye injury, or short rest, it’s always something.

The squad will now head to Los Angeles, and await word on whether there will be a concluded 2020 season, or if the focus shifts to 2021. If there is a finish to the regular season, expect Bob Bradley to have his guys ready to once again prove they can win when it matters most. While the team is still pretty far from ‘win now’ territory, the clock has definitely started ticking.

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