Much like last year’s inaugural run, Los Angeles Football Club started their 2019 campaign with a bang. After scoring a league-high 21 goals and conceding a league-low of just five in their first seven matches, LAFC jumped out to a six-win, undefeated head start. It would end, however, after a stunning 1-0 defeat Wednesday night at the hands of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
First, it is important to understand the context of Wednesday’s match. LAFC will face their second opponent of the week on Sunday at The Banc, so it comes as no surprise that LAFC made some unusual changes to Wednesday’s lineup with Sunday in mind.
Youngsters Niko Hamalainen and Shaft Brewer, Jr. each got their first career MLS starts at the defensive ends in place of two veterans, stalwart Jordan Harvey and constant impact player Steven Beitashour. Danilo Silva also started at center back next to Eddie Segura in place of regular Walker Zimmerman who left the previous game early after suffering a hard tackle.
Another major difference in Wednesday’s match compared to LAFC’s first seven was the simple fact that they were unable to create a rhythm moving the ball from the defensive end to the attacking end. LAFC had consistently brought offensive aggression from the first whistle in every game so far this season.
In fact, according to American Soccer Analysis, Los Angeles had been producing scoring opportunities at such a high rate that their actual goal differential through seven games of +16 almost doubled the expected goal differential of 8.1. LAFC scored and attacked at such a high rate that they went into Wednesday with league-leading 2.15 expected goals for per game.
It also helps that Carlos Vela (8) and Diego Rossi (6) were each number one and two on the goals scored leaderboard.
But with Mark-Anthony Kaye sitting out Wednesday to rest and Peter-Lee Vassell starting in his place, four different starters took a toll on much of the midfield chemistry that had become clearly the work engine of LAFC’s extremely successful attack. Earlier games would produce six or seven pass combinations from the middle third to the attacking box before a scoring opportunity was created.
It also did not help when right midfielder Latif Blessing had to be subbed out after hurting his shoulder and Kaye had to be subbed on.
Credit to Whitecaps FC, they did well to disrupt LAFC’s build-ups and constantly defended the attacking line from receiving connections from the midfield. On top of that, Vancouver did well to take advantage of these takeaways by sending many long balls past LAFC’s lumbering defending line for speedster Yordy Reyna to chase down.
Vancouver’s constant gang defending and quick counter-attacking kept LAFC from putting home any opportunities and consequently put an unfair amount of pressure on the inexperienced back line.
Reyna was able to chase down a handful of these long balls, and left end Ali Adnan made a run down the left side that eventually turned into Vancouver’s winning goal in the 27th minute. Even if the long balls did not end in a scoring chance, the long balls still forced LAFC to reset their offensive build-up time and time again.
By the time LAFC had begun to gain some traction and creating chances to score towards the end of the first half, Vancouver had already established its pace and stunned Los Angeles with an early 1-0.
Los Angeles’ reliance on their offense being their best defense worked for them through the first seven games because of the stellar chemistry and pace they were able to establish with a Kaye-Atuesta-Blessing midfield. And this is no knock on any of the new faces we saw in the starting lineup, but any chemistry in the midfield built over the first games was dashed once Kaye was first rested, then subbed in for an ailing Blessing.
LAFC still sits in first place of the Western Conference, but by just one point ahead of crosstown rival LA Galaxy and three points ahead of Sunday’s opponent, Seattle. Los Angeles’ attack first policy got them this far, to the point where they are leading the league in goals scored and in goals allowed.
But for them to retain the first seed throughout the season, they will need to find a way to produce results other than through their offense being their best defense. Without the opportunity to build an offensive rhythm like Wednesday night, LAFC will continue to get stuck on the defensive and finding themselves shockingly losing to team tied for the least amount of goals scored (5).
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