Los Angeles Football Club came into their match on Saturday against FC Dallas with the loss of Marco Ureña, a mainstay in the lineup at the striker position. The forward experienced a facial fracture against Seattle Sounders in the Banc of California Stadium opener, which required surgery and will keep him out for at least a month. The game against Dallas on Saturday, then, stood as the first match where LAFC would have to adjust to the lack of Ureña, who had started all seven games for the club so far, with five assists.
The change started in the lineup: Bob Bradley brought the team out in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with the same back four as before in the defense. Laurent Ciman and Walker Zimmerman held down the middle, with Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey on the wings. The midfield is where things get different: Eduard Atuesta got his first start of the season in the defensive midfield spot alongside Mark-Anthony Kaye, with Benny Feilhaber moving from his typical spot up to the center of the three in the midfield. On each side of Feilhaber were Latif Blessing and Diego Rossi, and Carlos Vela moved up in the formation to the lone striker spot, slotting in as Ureña’s direct replacement.
The midfield definitely had an adjustment to make with Feilhaber moving up from his normal spot and Atuesta coming in. Feilhaber was not able to play his normal style of dropping deep and acting as an anchor in front of the center-backs, and instead played as the primary distributor in the midfield. It became his role to get the ball to Vela, Rossi, and Blessing, instead of getting the ball into the midfield and disrupting passes from Dallas. Kaye played the same way he has all season, being a physical disruptor in the defensive side of the midfield. This left Atuesta, in his first start, to fall back and aid in defense as well as move the ball forward.
Feilhaber, first of all, had a pretty solid game in the offensive part of the midfield, which is a good sign for Bob Bradley moving forward this season. For Bradley to be able to use Feilhaber as an offensive and defensive midfielder, especially in a team that lacks an abundance of depth, is priceless, particularly heading towards a summer where multiple players will be out of the roster for the World Cup. Feilhaber was able to find Rossi and Blessing on the wings moving forward and open up space for the forwards to exploit. He also had some good offensive moves himself, and was able to lift the ball forward to Vela attacking the goal. While Vela has been used as a midfielder before for LAFC, if he needs to be in the striker position, Feilhaber has proven that he can put in good work in the center mid position.
For Vela, also moving up a spot in the formation into Ureña’s standard striker position, it was frankly business as usual. What Ureña has been able to do so far for the team is to open space moving up so other forwards can get in behind, with room to either pass or take a shot themselves. While Ureña has not put a ball in the back of the net yet this season, he has made great contributions for the team in the attacking third. Vela held down this position about as well as we all expected: Vela is no stranger to the striker spot and has played there before, in both starts and in LAFC’s rotating attack. Vela was able to do exactly what he needed to do in both creative terms and the attack itself, and while he did not score, he was not a downgrade from Ureña.
The only other shift was that of Atuesta in the midfield taking Feilhaber’s place alongside Kaye, and while Atuesta did not stand out as a man of the match with much to write home about, he had a solid game right in front of Ciman and Zimmerman. This was truly the real test for LAFC: we know what Feilhaber is capable of, and Vela has proven to be the best player on the team and one of the best in the league. We needed to know who can slot into the defensive midfield until Andre Horta can arrive from Portugal, when he can be either in the two or three-man part of the formation, or until Lee Nguyen gets up to speed in the team. LAFC is not short on attacking talent, but needed to see what they had in some defensive-minded midfield spots. Kaye has worked out very well, and Atuesta had a good game, which bodes well for the black-and-gold.
While losing Ureña for at least a month is not optimal for LAFC, and is a loss of an important player, Bradley’s men responded relatively well to their first real test of depth. While the team did not get all three points against Dallas, they had a good performance and plenty of good attacking chances, and the result of a draw did not come down to the lack of Ureña nor a lack of quality in his place. It may be only one game, but as of now, it does not seem that the injury to Ureña will hamstring the team, and that they can hold down the fort until the Costa Rican returns. It is also worth noting that if Ureña is healthy, he will probably go to the World Cup for Costa Rica, which means LAFC will need to learn to play without Ureña regardless. As of now, it looks like they will be okay.
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