Next weekend, LAFC will play a game in Banc of California Stadium for the first time. But before looking ahead, let’s take a look at the road trip and take stock from a pretty challenging opening two months.
4-2-0 record? Pretty, pretty good
LAFC will look back and likely figure that should be a 5-1-0 record, truly, had they not produced an epic collapse against the LA Galaxy after being ahead 3-0 at the hour mark. And the 5-0 thrashing they received at the hands of Atlanta United was a wake-up call, no doubt about it.
But aside from those blemishes, all things considered LAFC put up a very credible record to open their history on the road. I think even good teams would take four wins in six road games, to say nothing of an expansion team playing its first games ever.
It’s also notable because while LAFC have gained a reputation as a free-scoring team, and they did put up five goals each in two of their wins, they won in different ways each time. In the opener against the Seattle Sounders, they squeaked out a result by the skin of their teeth, with the soccer gods smiling on them and players being up for the challenge. Against Real Salt Lake, after conceding a penalty they came roaring back and made no mistake on the day.
And after the back-to-back losses against the Galaxy and Atlanta, where they conceded nine unanswered goals, there were clear questions about whether the first two games were a mirage. Instead, Bob Bradley and the team got right back at it, beating a Vancouver Whitecaps team that technically had a good record at home but hadn’t been playing well, with Carlos Vela breaking the dam with a moment of magic. They followed that up with a spirited comeback against the Impact, after being down 3-1 in the first half, they scored four unanswered goals to take a win that really didn’t look to be in the cards on the day.
Most impressive is when you put LAFC’s four wins in six road games record in comparison with the league:
For context: That's more road points than two playoff teams last year over the course of the whole season, and 45% of the way to TFC's league-best total of 27 points last year.— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) April 21, 2018
Also, only one West team had more than 4 road wins in all of 2017. #MTLvLAFC https://t.co/rKyPH7CFEc
Even with LAFC’s lofty ambitions, that’s good.
Stars and all
LAFC’s two available Designated Players have been living up to the billing. Vela has five goals (tied for second in MLS right now) and three assists, and two of his goals are game-winners. Diego Rossi has four goals and four assists (tied for second in MLS), put together possibly the best performance in MLS in a decade in the win over RSL, and scored the first goal in LAFC history.
But even with those two playing a major role, the rest of the team is contributing, too. Marcos Ureña hasn’t scored yet, but he leads MLS with five assists (really!) at the moment. Three other players have scored: Latif Blessing (2 goals), Benny Feilhaber (2 goals, from a position farther back than he’s played recently in MLS) and Laurent Ciman (1 goal).
Tyler Miller had a Man of the Match performance in goal to lead LAFC to victory in the opening game. Dejan Jakovic has played so well after many figured he was well past MLS level that Bradley has worked to keep him on the field, and his personal record in games he’s started is 4-1-0. Mark-Anthony Kaye has gone from being a USL player whose natural position may not exist in LAFC’s lineup to a holding midfielder who is taking some lumps but hasn’t relinquished the starting spot yet, and seems to be improving every match.
Bradley has used a very, very small group of players so far, but in many respects that’s fitting since LAFC have a very, very small roster. So far it’s working, and the stars and lesser-known players are all pitching in.
Still room for improvement
Even with the outlook largely positive, it has to be said that there are quite a few issues to work on as the season progresses. While the attack has pulled its weight aside from the Atlanta blowout, the defense and midfield are still trying to figure things out. If LAFC can win games 5-3, I think anyone would take it, but as long as those results don’t devolve into consistent 3-1 losses.
Miller started very well in goal but he’s left enough of a window open that Luis Lopez could get a shot at some point when he’s fully healthy. A lot of the players brought in, the likes of Eduard Atuesta, Omar Gaber, Shaft Brewer and James Murphy, haven’t seen much playing time yet. It’s a long season, and three of those players are very young and could use some time to bed in with the squad anyway. Plus, Bradley has clearly taken to rewarding players who perform. Until a player gives him reason to swap in another starter, he’s not going to make a change, and that’s totally fair.
But with the World Cup looming and several key players likely to depart for a couple months and miss a major chunk of the season, there will be new tests ahead, even beyond the usual expansion team growing pains. We can’t predict how they’ll come out of those future tests, but the good news is that LAFC finished the six-game road trip with a good record, good performances, and something to strive for, and all things considered, that’s a good thing.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!