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LAFC 2019 MLS preview

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Black-and-gold aim for first trophy in year two.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Los Angeles FC
Will Bradley’s style lead to ultimate success in 2019?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Football Club had a pretty good debut season in 2018. On one hand, they became the latest MLS expansion team to make the playoffs. They opened a stadium, too, and it’s a treat. But they were angling for silverware, and after falling short in that quest, there’s a renewed motivation for the 2019 season.

Want to learn more about LAFC? Need to get caught up on what’s happening? We’ve got you covered.

How did they finish in 2018?

LAFC had a 16-9-9 record in the MLS regular season, good for third in the Western Conference, on 57 points. But they were knocked out in the Knockout Round of the playoffs, at home, by Real Salt Lake in a chastening defeat. They also did pretty well in the U.S. Open Cup, reaching the semifinal but losing on the road in a penalty shootout to the ultimate champion, Houston Dynamo.

Who’s in? Who’s out?

LAFC In/Out for 2019

Eddie Segura (D) Charlie Lyon (GK)
Mohamed El-Munir (D) Quillan Roberts (GK)
Rodolfo Zelaya (F) Nico Czornomaz (M)
Pablo Sisniega (GK) Calum Mallace (M)
Phillip Ejimadu (GK) James Murphy (M)
Lamar Batista (D) Steeve Saint-Duc (F)
Adrien Perez (F) Marco Ureña (F)
Niko Hamalainen (D) Benny Feilhaber (M)
Luis Lopez (GK)
Aaron Kovar (M)
Joao Moutinho (D)

Biggest change from 2018?

Not a lot, actually. This offseason has been mostly about continuity for LAFC. While they lost one starter in Benny Feilhaber, who signed with the Colorado Rapids, the rest of the squad could reasonably be returning starters from 2018.

A possible exception to that is defender Eddie Segura, a young center back from Colombia who looks set to play a significant role in his first season with LAFC. Another key addition is Salvadoran forward Rodolfo Zelaya, whose signing has already been a hit in Los Angeles. What role will he play on a stacked attack? That remains to be seen.

What did we learn about this team in 2018?

Pretty much everything, considering they were starting from scratch. But to get into some specifics, Bob Bradley introduced what he promised: An exciting, attacking, front-foot approach for the team. LAFC turned heads for dropping a traditional midfield set-up with a defensive midfielder sitting back and defending in the middle, instead opting to rotate roles among the three midfielders on the field, with players doing more of a two-way role than traditional defensive midfielders.

The result? A lot of goals, nearly every game exciting to watch for fans and neutrals alike, but also a defense that could not always hold up. Which leads nicely to the next question...

What’s the biggest concern for this season?

It’s got to be the defense. The attack may be the most potent in MLS — they have 2-3 players every game on the bench who would start on most teams. The midfield set-up remains a question in the defending department, as does the defense overall. Bradley has stressed that if the style of play is properly executed, it will work. The team is betting on that — with the roster largely remaining intact and the style of play remaining the same, the team will seek to do what they did in 2018, only better. Will that be good enough?

What’s the new jersey?

This is LAFC’s new secondary jersey. Dubbed the “street by street” kit, it reminded us of Rage Against the Machine’s “Battle of Los Angeles” album cover.

Will this team care about the U.S. Open Cup?

Yes, they will. LAFC put a lot into their Open Cup campaign last year, and while it was a wild ride, including a quarterfinal match where losing team Portland Timbers filed an official protest over the eligibility of the players LAFC used (the protest was dropped as it appeared U.S. Soccer assured both sides they were in the right) and an LAFC player accused a Timbers player of calling him a racial slur (that investigation led nowhere, except the Timbers releasing an ill-considered response effectively blaming the LAFC player in the first place), as well as a semifinal against Houston where Diego Rossi scored a hat trick but they still lost in a penalty shootout, they really were this close to lifting a trophy. The U.S. Open Cup is the easiest way to win a trophy, and I expect LAFC to aim for it again in 2019.

How much will this roster change after the season starts?

That’s hard to predict, of course, but LAFC were very busy last year in-season, signing a Designated Player (Andre Horta) and a TAM player (Adama Diomande), selling two players abroad during the season (Omar Gaber and Laurent Ciman), and trading for two MLS veterans (Lee Nguyen and Christian Ramirez). Considering this year’s roster is more stable, they may not be as active, but don’t be surprised if a youngster like Diego Rossi or Eduard Atuesta draws transfer interest from abroad, or if the team makes another surprise swoop to add a quality player or two.

After a strong debut season in MLS, Carlos Vela should play a major role again for LAFC.
Courtesy of LAFC

Expectations for 2019 for LAFC?

The aim is to win a trophy. Considering their run in 2018 — making the playoffs, reaching the Open Cup semifinal and finishing fifth in the Supporters’ Shield standings, if they can stay healthy and on the same page, and show improvement this year, they’ve got every chance of getting a trophy. It won’t be easy, but it certainly seems realistic.

Projected starting XI:

GK: Tyler Miller

D: Steven Beitashour, Walker Zimmerman, Eddie Segura, Jordan Harvey

M: Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta, Lee Nguyen

F: Carlos Vela, Christian Ramirez, Diego Rossi

What do you think? Leave a comment below!