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Carlos Vela-Adama Diomande chemistry still a work in progress for LAFC

And it could make or break their playoff prospects.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve watched Los Angeles Football Club regularly this season, a few trends have emerged. One of those has gone under the radar until recently, the on-field chemistry between Carlos Vela and Adama Diomande.

Vela is the undisputed star of LAFC, and has by and large backed up his reputation with his play on the field. He’s got 11 goals and 10 assists in 24 appearances in the league this year, and has taken over as full-time captain.

Diomande, meanwhile, became the hottest player in MLS in June, and scored nine goals in a six-game stretch. It can be argued pretty persuasively that Diomande was the player who kept LAFC’s attack afloat while Vela was out at the World Cup, with the result being that Vela returned from Russia with his club in good shape, not reliant on him to bail them out of a slump.

But the players have not found much connection in common. In league play, they have played eight games together. In games they have both played in, Diomande has two goals and two assists, while Vela has four goals and five assists.

On paper, that sounds good, but they’ve only connected together on one goal: Diomande chased a ball in the corner, and sent a cross that was headed in by Vela to open the scoring in the third El Trafico, on July 26.

On one hand, having two productive players who don’t need each other to score can be ok. Opponents may shut down one, while the other one can break free and score.

But if you’ve actually watched the duo play together, something seems off. They don’t have that ease of understanding that Vela has with pretty much the rest of the roster. They at times run into the same spots on the field in buildup, rendering those plays dead when they collapse on the same patch of grass and a pass ends up trickling harmlessly away.

This happened on Saturday in an early play in LAFC’s 3-1 loss at Chicago Fire, as identified by MLSsoccer.com in this video beginning at 3:26:

This is not a new observation. I asked LAFC head coach Bob Bradley about Vela finding chemistry with newly integrated players Lee Nguyen and Diomande after the 0-0 draw against the Portland Timbers in July, and Bradley attributed struggles in that game more to Portland’s deep defensive posture than any lack of chemistry between the players.

“I think Carlos’ understanding of Lee, Dio, having played with them enough in training, that puts them...I think you can see, we try different ideas,” Bradley said. “Carlos played on the right, then at a certain point we changed it, let him play more as a 10. We had different ideas based upon how the game was going, and for the most part, our ideas on what we tried to do were all good. Look, you’ve got to be good to make a play when the [opposing] numbers are deep.”

But given nearly two additional months, it doesn’t seem to have improved. Beyond that one goal Vela and Diomande connected on, they just don’t look like they play easily together.

One reason why it’s taken so long for the duo to mesh is the alternating absences they’ve had. Vela was gone at the World Cup, while Diomande suffered an injury that kept him out five of six games in August and September. It may be that these players won’t find a rhythm this year at all, and perhaps they can come to one next season.

But while LAFC have considerable depth at central striker, between Diomande, goal-shy but chemistry-filled Marco Ureña, and summer addition Christian Ramirez, who hasn’t played a ton but was set up by Vela on his first LAFC goal, Bradley has options up top, and doesn’t have to stick with one set-up, necessarily.

That said, Diomande is the third-leading scorer on the team, behind Vela and Diego Rossi, and having him in form in the playoffs would be another major arrow in LAFC’s proverbial playoff quiver. In the playoffs, desperation can reign, and having your best players on the field is a must to advance. Diomande should be in line for some playoff minutes, if he’s healthy. And LAFC’s path to advancing in the playoffs would seem to be much easier if he and Vela can find an understanding, quickly. Whether that will actually happen remains to be seen.

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