Los Angeles Football Club struggled in a real way for the first time in 2019 on Wednesday, as they suffered their first defeat, a 1-0 loss against the previously winless Vancouver Whitecaps. There’s plenty to look over, here are five reactions from the game.
Ring in the changes
In the context of a full season, there will be games where players need a rest and rotation is necessary. With LAFC in the middle of three games in eight days, it makes sense that Bob Bradley would want to mix things up a bit, especially with a two-game set coming up against the Seattle Sounders.
The biggest surprise was Bradley changed three of four defensive starters, with only Eddie Segura remaining in place. Danilo Silva slotted in Walker Zimmerman’s place, who was held out to rest and recover from a knock, while youngsters Niko Hamalainen and Shaft Brewer, Jr. made their first starts in MLS. The same went for midfielder Peter-Lee Vassell, who came in for Mark-Anthony Kaye, a bench option who had to ultimately replace an injured Latif Blessing.
Again, in context, changes make sense, but the defense was not crisp and lacked the steady demeanor that has marked the start of the season. That seemed to trickle through the whole lineup, and everyone was just off. Maybe this experience will help the youngsters grow moving forward, but in the moment it was rough.
I find grass vs. turf discussions to be generally tedious, and Carlos Vela admitted after complaining about the turf in Vancouver that both teams had to play on it.
Bradley was far more strident, declaring the pitch at BC Place “impossible to play good football” on, and imploring writers to call out the Whitecaps for having a crappy surface.
If the surface was an issue, it did contribute to LAFC’s sloppy play, with the ball seemingly bouncing far more than black-and-gold players expected, and turnovers were plentiful. I think Bradley has a point, but bear in mind that other teams have found a way to beat Vancouver — even LAFC beat the Whitecaps in British Columbia just last year, after all. Surfaces can impact the game, and like weather, both teams are impacted, sometimes to a greater extent than others, but Vancouver’s turf isn’t a complete mystery around MLS, either.
Know your enemy
Another factor in the loss is Marc Dos Santos. The Whitecaps manager was LAFC’s assistant coach last year and perhaps knows Bradley’s team better than anyone. I think LAFC inflicted some of their wounds in the match themselves with the lineup changes, but I wouldn’t discount Dos Santos’ knowledge of how to stifle LAFC’s attack, which remained strong with Diego Rossi, Christian Ramirez and Vela lining up from the start. Vela had a couple points where he tried to execute a move on a defender and was cut off, and LAFC were limited to just three shots on target. Again, some of that is probably the players just not executing well on the night, but I wouldn’t discount Dos Santos’ ability to have a good defensive plan to stymie the opponent here.
Latif Blessing has been a revelation in midfield this season, and I had gotten to the point where I believed he might have finally found a spot where he’d hold onto a starting spot for good for LAFC. But a rough foul suffered in the first half against Doneil Henry — who picked up a yellow card — left Blessing holding his shoulder, trying to play through it, and forced to come off before halftime.
Don’t want to speculate on Blessing’s injury before word emerges from the club, but Bradley’s comforting hug when the Ghanaian was substituted was tender, and hopefully not the last we see of him before an extended absence. Fingers crossed.
The player whose stock probably rose the most from this game was Eddie Segura. The young center back has been a machine, and with Danilo Silva putting up another creaky performance this year, Segura was the leader in the back and did most of that leading by example.
Segura almost certainly will have his loan option picked up by LAFC in the summer transfer window and will remain with the club. He’s not a rookie and won’t be eligible for MLS Rookie of the Year, and is unlikely to win MLS Newcomer of the Year because that normally goes to attacking players. But the Colombian is remarkably consistent so far in his MLS tenure, and if he continues this, he could be the best young defender in MLS by a mile, and perhaps even in the reckoning for MLS Defender of the Year.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!